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Home affairs ‘not coping’ with immigration

2020-02-10 00:00

The department of home affairs’ processes for undocumented immigrants are inadequate, leaving it unable to determine the number and status of undocumented people in the country.

This is according a follow-up performance audit conducted by the office of the Auditor-General, which presented its findings before Parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs last week.

We say if you falsify our documents, we will deport you
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi

The 60-page report lays bare a growing crisis of undocumented people which has been exacerbated by budget cuts, shoddy systems and overburdened state machinery.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the department had accepted the 65 recommendations made in the report.

He insisted that the department was working overtime to arrest the problem, but was at times hamstrung by a lack of synergy in government departments.

He argued that a cut in budgets across government had left the department severely constrained.

The report notes that:

• The deportation budget allocation was not sufficient to deport undocumented immigrants back to their countries of origin. The budget declined by 56% from 2015/16 to 2017/18. The number of deportees decreased 55%.

• Home affairs did not know how many of the 946 314 inactive section 22 (asylum seeker permit) applicants (as at 31 December 2017) were still in the country as the various systems were not integrated.

• The independent bodies established in terms of the Refugees Act, namely the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs and the Refugee Appeals Board, experienced backlogs of 40 326 and 147 794 cases respectively. With their current capacity, the committee would take just over one year and the board 68 years to attend to the backlog without taking new cases.

The Auditor-General emphasised that the department’s contract with the company formally known as Bosasa and which owned the site housing the Lindela repatriation centre, did not “favour” government.

“The contract with the service provider of the holding facility provided for a minimum threshold (the department had to pay an amount equal to the threshold, irrespective of the actual number of detainees). The threshold was only exceeded once in 29 months. This increased the average daily cost per person by 454%. The pricing annexure of the contract could not be provided by the department of home affairs for audit purposes,” the report reads.

We are having a disadvantage because we don’t put people into camps. In most countries, while things are being worked out, people are in camps where the health services, education, whatever are provided by international agencies
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi

The department of public works has since purchased the site which houses Lindela for R60 million after it went into liquidation.

Motsoaledi said that the new regulations on refugees, which had been described as “draconian” by some, aimed to address some of the issues flagged.

“One of the weaknesses which explain the backlog is that in the act and the regulations it says the chairperson of the standing committee on appeals must be a lawyer, but the other four members need not be lawyers.”

This means that the committee cannot sit when the chairperson is not available.

“In the new regulation, all five members must be lawyers so that they can all work on cases such as judges except for special cases. We hope instead of one sitting there will be five sittings at a time,” he told the committee.

The new regulations will also allow for the department to capacitate the appeals board as it deems necessary by increasing or decreasing the number of people on the board at any given time.

He also said that there was a perception that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had given resources to the department which had gone unused.

Sometimes fraud is encouraged so much by our rules that sometimes it overwhelms us, for instance the fraudulent activities in terms of our green bar-coded ID, which is so easy to defraud
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi

“I don’t want to talk ill of the UNHCR, they do help other countries. We are having a disadvantage because we don’t put people into camps. In most countries, while things are being worked out, people are in camps where the health services, education, whatever are provided by international agencies. In our country we said no, we can’t do that, so we have that disadvantage.”

Motsoaledi said South Africa has “never received a cent for a person in South Africa, but the public believes that and asks where is that money”.

Motsoaledi also accused the state of being too easy on those who were found to have committed fraud.

“Sometimes fraud is encouraged so much by our rules that sometimes it overwhelms us, for instance the fraudulent activities in terms of our green bar-coded ID, which is so easy to defraud. At some stage there were 8 700 fraudsters in the system,” he said.

He cited the example of one Mr Sibanda, the chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum, “a fraudster” who produced fake documents and complained about “how bad South Africa is”.

He was not arrested because he and others like him were given amnesty because it would have been “too much” to prosecute all 8 700 producers of fake documents.

“We said let us give them amnesty if they come forward and return the documents. We promised them legal documents and 8 700 came.

“So charging people doesn’t help, you can imagine taking 8 700 people through the court process. And you know what the court does, they give a fine of R3 000, they smilingly pay because it means nothing.

“Now in the new regulations which are called draconian, if you falsify an ID document of a country you are taking away the sovereignty of that country. You are telling Parliament that laws it passed don’t matter.

“We say if you falsify our documents, we will deport you,” concluded Motsoaledi.


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March 29 2020