SEVERAL interventions are in the pipeline as the Department of Home Affairs moves in to sanitize its notorious Marabastad refugee reception office, characterised by violent crime and allegations of extensive corruption.
On Tuesday, Mayihlome Tshwete, spokesperson for Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said his department was aware of the various complaints levelled against the centre.
“We are looking at different interventions from our side, which will include an appointment system for people who want to visit the office. As Home Affairs, we are assisted by other government agencies at the site. We are mainly responsible of what happens inside the premises,” said Tshwete.
“That said, Minister Gigaba is on record for saying no one should treat foreigners in our country as people who do not have rights. Human rights apply to foreigners as well. We do not take this matter lightly. Where there is a culture of abusing foreigners, it will end,” he stated.
Every week day, thousands of immigrants congregate outside the Marabastad office, hoping to renew or get asylum-seeker documents.
On Tuesday, the immigrants complained about corrupt police officers and Home Affairs staff who demanded bribes. A number of foreign nationals claimed that Home Affairs was turning a blind eye to their plight.
“For years, several ministers have come and gone but without solving this mess. We are at the mercy of unscrupulous police officers, corrupt Home Affairs officials and nyaope addicts making a living out of stealing from us,” said Zambian Trevor Masimiri.
“South Africa preaches African solidarity and renaissance on one hand, while immigrants from other countries continue to be treated like trash. We have left our countries because of circumstance beyond our control. We had South Africans also in our countries when things were bad here,” he said.
Another asylum-seeker, only identified as Bethany, said a place in the queue cost anything from between R50 and R200.
“But there is no guarantee that you will extend your asylum-seeker permit. That money is taken by the police manning the queues. At the same time, you always have to be on the look-out for criminals here. Police don’t do anything because the criminals are never arrested,” Bethany said.
“The police run this place like a mafia. Every day people, even women get assaulted here,” she revealed.
Numerous men were controlling the queue outside, holding batons and rubber whips.
Earlier on Tuesday, Zimbabwean school teacher, Wilson Kwatamanzi was allegedly repeatedly punched with clenched fists, put in a chokehold and “almost died” after he was spotted by police officers taking pictures while queuing at the centre.
“I wanted to send the pictures to my employer, to notify the school administration that there is chaos here and I will not be able to leave early. I explained to the police officers but they started punching me. I ran for help to Home Affairs guards but they could not intervene,” said Kwatamanzi, who sported swollen cheeks.
He was arrested by Constable Benny Ndlovu and detained in a truck inside the Home Affairs premises. Home Affairs security officials released Kwatamanzi after several hours.
When Ndlovu then spotted Kwatamanzi queuing again, he re-arrested him and again detained him in the truck. – ANA