(Johannesburg) - The South African government should immediately halt detaining and deporting Zimbabweans from South Africa in violation of the government's recently announced moratorium, Human Rights Watch said today. Police in the town of Musina, close to the Zimbabwean border, continue to detain Zimbabweans at a military base and then deport them.
On April 16, 2009, South African police drove a group of Zimbabweans detained at a police-operated military base in Musina to the Zimbabwean side of the border, even though South African border officials - complying with the government's moratorium - refused to grant them exit documents. The deported Zimbabweans were then refused entry into their country on the grounds that they could not prove their nationality and were then driven back to the military base in Musina and detained once again.
"The police are acting as if they are a law unto themselves," said Gerry Simpson, refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. "If they are ignoring a clear government order to stop detaining and deporting Zimbabweans and give them temporary status, then South Africa has a major problem with the rule of law."
Thousands of Zimbabweans are being detained by the police in the military base at Musina in appalling conditions and without recourse to proper immigration screening procedures. The South African group Lawyers for Human Rights petitioned the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to close the center and was granted an order by the High Court for the immediate release of all Zimbabweans held there for longer than 48 hours. The court is considering whether to close it down entirely.
On April 3, the Department of Home Affairs announced it would introduce "special dispensation permits" to legalize the stay of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans in South Africa and give them work rights and access to basic health care and education. The department also announced an immediate moratorium on the deportation of Zimbabweans from South Africa.
A June 2008 Human Rights Watch report, "Neighbors in Need: Zimbabweans Seeking Refuge in South Africa," called on South Africa to halt all deportations of Zimbabweans and to grant them temporary status and the right to work.
"Having taken this bold step to provide over a million desperate Zimbabweans with the protection they need and deserve, the government needs to make sure its decision is enforced," said Simpson. "It needs to tell the police to free the Zimbabweans and end the deportations now."