By Thupeyo Muleya
South Africa yesterday deported 261 Zimbabweans who were living in that country illegally while 300 more such immigrants are expected to arrive at Beitbridge Border Post today. This follows the expiry of the July 31 deadline for them to regularise their papers.
The first batch of 261 Zimbabweans arrived here around midday yesterday in a convoy of four buses under heavy security. The deportees underwent rigorous screening at Lindelani Holding Centre in Johannesburg.
Over 275 000 applications for Zimbabweans wishing to regularise their stay in South Africa were processed while several others were turned down. Some people are still waiting to have their permits processed.
South African Home Affairs officials accompanying the deportees said they will be deporting Zimbabweans two times per week – on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“We are only deporting undocumented immigrants and those who are intercepted while trying to skip the border through illegal entry points. In the last two weeks we have rounded up a number of people of all nationalities whom we have been screening and repatriating back to their countries.
“The other challenge we have is that people lie about their citizenship. We will devise a way to handle this group of people,” said an official who declined to be named. The deportees were handed over to the International Organisation for Migration reception centre here where they were also vetted to verify their nationalities.
IOM will assist them with transport to their homes, food and overnight accommodation. The reception centre has capacity to hold at least 600 people at any given time.
South Africa indicated that it will thoroughly vet Zimbabwean illegal immigrants before deportation unlike in the past where they applied a wholesale approach and deported anyone from Zimbabwe. This follows a meeting between Home Affairs officials from both countries last Tuesday.
The meeting was attended by officials from the South African immigration services at Beitbridge along with that country’s Head of Deportations who was only identified as Mr T. Kgoale.
In a recent interview, the Assistant Regional Immigration Officer in charge of operations at Beitbridge Border Post Mrs Tamari Shadaya said the deportations will target undocumented illegal immigrants and border jumpers.
Government officials from South Africa and Zimbabwe alongside child protection organisations have agreed to assist children who will be affected by deportations.
Limpopo Area manager for Save the Children Richard Kgomotso Montsho said they were looking at strengthening relations in terms of reducing cases of irregular migration among children and finding ways of reuniting them and reintegrating them in the communities.
“South Africa plays host to many children from countries within Sadc and those in West Africa and hence as the affected countries, we need to come up with measures to co-ordinate the handling of children on the move,” he said.