PRETORIA – While President Robert Mugabe’s government continues to be in denial over the economic and political collapse under their watch these pictures of hundreds of Zimbabweans queuing daily to claim in asylum in Pretoria, South Africa tell a different story.
A Nehanda Radio Citizen reporter who sent these pictures said staff at the offices appeared to be on a go-slow and corruption was rife with many having to fork out substantial amounts of money to have their papers processed.
David Cote who heads the Strategic Litigation Programme at the Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa said “Since 2010, half of South Africa’s refugee reception offices have been closed leaving the Southern two-thirds of the country with no services for new asylum seekers.”
“This has resulted in increased queues at the remaining offices with a concomitant decrease in access and rampant corruption. The situation is particularly desperate to renew permits on time due to a confusing, and clearly unlawful, procedure to fine asylum seekers and refugees who do not renew their permits on time.
“If the permit has expired, you are told to go pay R1000 fine at the local police station. However, that’s not how fines work. Much like a traffic fine, you must be given a form to tell you when you must appear in court or by when you may pay an admission of guilt fine to avoid going through the court process.
“When asylum seekers arrive at the police station, they are simply told to pay or they will not have their permits renewed, no matter whether they have a good reason (such as hospital stays or an unwillingness to pay a corrupt official).
“The few cases that we have brought to the High Court to require a proper fine to be issued have not changed the system. This results in expired permits and the perception that people are “illegal” – a sentiment we have seen echoed in ongoing violence.
“In light of the ongoing access problems, so-called “illegal foreigners” may not be so illegal. They are just the victims of a vicious cycle of political unwillingness to improve the system. Instead, political leaders have been blaming foreigners for not complying with South African laws and sending the army to the border.
“While we have seen instances of irregular border crossing, sending a squad of armed soldiers to patrol the border is an empty gesture since even lawful immigrants are unable to renew their permits on time and are then considered “illegal”.”