By Hassan Isilow
Rights groups have condemned the recent arrest of hundreds of illegal immigrants in South Africa, saying the move served to undermine the ongoing integration process following last month’s anti-immigrant attacks.
“Over the last fortnight, we have witnessed human rights violations and arbitrary detentions of primarily foreign nationals under the controversial ‘Operation Fiela-Reclaim’,” the People’s Coalition against Xenophobia, which represents a number of organizations, said in a Tuesday statement.
Last month, the South African government launched a security operation aimed at clamping down on illegal immigrants, drug dealers and other criminal elements.
Codenamed “Feila,” meaning “sweep” or “clean” in the local Sotho language, the operation was launched days after a spate of anti-immigrant attacks that claimed seven lives and displaced hundreds of African migrants from their homes and businesses.
The army, police and Department of Home Affairs have cordoned off areas inhabited by migrants and searched them for illegal weapons, drugs and identification documents.
Over 800 people, mostly illegal immigrants, have since been arrested.
Nearly 300 illegal immigrants were arrested in Johannesburg last Friday when police, the military and home affairs officials raided the Central Methodist Church, where several poor migrants had sought shelter.
“Lawyers have been repeatedly denied access to consult with those arrested during the raids on May 8. Most detainees still have not had the opportunity to speak to an attorney,” the statement read.
The people’s coalition revealed that an urgent application would be heard on Wednesday in the South Gauteng High Court, where human rights lawyers were seeking an order granting legal representatives access to the detainees.
They also want security officials to provide them with a full list of detainees and their locations and to halt all deportations until all detainees have had the opportunity to consult attorneys.
The South African government has denied claims that the new security operation was aimed at targeting foreign nationals in the country.
“We would like to categorically and emphatically state that these claims are far from the truth,” Inter-Ministerial Committee spokesperson Phumla Williams was quoted as saying by local media on Tuesday.
She said law-abiding foreigners and citizens should not fear the operation, which is aimed at restoring order and ensuring people abide by the law.
Last month, violence broke out in the coastal city of Durban, where mobs descended on the homes and shops of foreign migrants, who were accused of stealing jobs from native South Africans, committing crimes and putting an undue burden on the country’s social services.
Hundreds of migrants from Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other African countries have since left the country.
Calm has since returned, with most temporary refugee camps closed. But most undocumented migrants still live in fear, as officials are determined to arrest and deport them for being in the country illegally. (Anadolu Ajansi)