SA/Zimbabwe govts meet over Somali refugees
Beit Bridge (Alshahid) -South African and Zimbabwean immigration officials met in Beit Bridge on Friday and agreed to deal jointly with the immigration crisis amid revelations that 64 Somali refugees were rounded up in the border town as they attempted to cross the border into South Africa illegally.
The emergency meeting followed growing concerns by immigration authorities from the two countries over an influx of Somali refugees, who have been continuously flocking into Zimbabwe since Friday last week, in transit to South Africa through the Beit Bridge Border Post.
The Somalis, most of whom had no documents to prove their refugee status, were denied entry by SA Home Affairs officials at the Beit Bridge border post.
South Africa’s deputy director-general of immigration, Mr Jackson McKay, said there was a need to deal effectively with the irregular movement of people. “We are really concerned about irregular migration, and so we met and agreed that there was a need to apply the law and address the issue of irregular migration within our territories. We also resolved to come up with effective, tangible measures to deal with illegal immigrants. The law is very clear that if one intends to use our borders, they should have a valid travel document.
“We denied the Somalis entry into our country because they didn’t have the required documents (asylum permits) which they were supposed to acquire from the first country of safety before proceeding to South Africa, including any other country,” he said. Zimbabwe’s principal director of immigration, Mr Clemence Masango, said the meeting was aimed at addressing the perennial problem of irregular migration and its vices taking place between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“Zimbabwe and South Africa are signatories to the Geneva Convention on refugees. However, we have noted that of late there has been laxity at our border posts, resulting in an increase in irregular movement of people, some of whom would be masquerading as refugees.”
Masango said all persons entering and leaving the country would be admitted on the strength of a valid travel document, in line with the Immigration Act. “Those claiming asylum statuses will also be treated in accordance with the set national and international guidelines on refugees in consultation with the Office of the UN Commissioner of Refugees. Anyone not going though these structures becomes an illegal immigrant and there is a law to deal with that.”
Regarding the Somalis who are stranded in Beit Bridge, Masango said they were illegal immigrants, since they were not confirmed as refugees by the first country of safety. “Since they don’t have those supporting documents, they are illegal immigrants and our law enforcement structures are addressing the situation,” he said.
The officer commanding the police in Beit Bridge, Chief Superintendent Hosiah Mukombero, said they rounded up a new group of 64 Somalis soon after its arrival in the border town on Friday.
The first group of Somalis, numbering 97, which was refused entry into South Africa, is suspected to have used illegal entry points along the Limpopo River to cross the border. The refugees use Zimbabwe as their transit point to South Africa after having entered that country through Nyamapanda Border Post.