- Human Rights Watch has today called on the South African government to immediately halt detaining and deporting Zimbabweans from the country in violation of the government's recently announced moratorium.
Police in the town of Musina, close to the Zimbabwean border, are reported to have continued to detain Zimbabweans at a military base and then deport them, according to the HRW.
The group said on 16 April, 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 group said.
"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."
According to HRW, thousands of Zimbabweans are reported to be 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.
HRW also noted that on April 3, the Department of Home Affairs announced it would introduce "special dispensation permits" to legalise 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, the group added.
A June 2008 Human Rights Watch report, "Neighbours 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 Mr Simpson, adding, "It needs to tell the police to free the Zimbabweans and end the deportations now."
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