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South Africa: Authorities must uphold refugee and migrant rights and respect the rule of law

    May 14, 2015

    The South African police and Immigration officials must fully and immediately comply with the Court Order of 12 May 2015 to not deport hundreds of refugees and others arrested under operation “Fiela”, Amnesty International-South Africa said today.    

    “The authorities must ensure that all detained persons are enabled to both contact their lawyers and challenge the detention and orders for deportation”, said Sicel’mpilo Shange-Buthane, Executive Director of Amnesty International-South Africa.

    The repeated violations of the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants detained after police raids in inner city Johannesburg on 8 May is a matter of grave concern.
    “The court’s ruling instructing the police and immigration officials to act within the law confirms that the rights of those arrested had been violated since the beginning of the operation.”

    “It is outrageous that the police and immigration officials detained all foreigners they encountered, including recognized refugees and asylum-seekers. Such disproportionate acts fuel xenophobia.”

    The four hundred refugees and migrants who were detained following raids in inner city Johannesburg during the evening of 8 May were refused permission to contact their lawyers. The police and immigration’s conduct was in contempt of a High Court order that had been issued earlier directing the police to allow the detainees access to their lawyers.

    It was also in violation of South Africa’s Constitution and the country’s international legal obligations.

    It emerged during those court proceedings that no warrant had been issued allowing the police to conduct the arrests.

    Sworn testimonies before the court on 12 May and other evidence indicate that the raids were conducted indiscriminately by police, with military backing, at the Central Methodist Church and in a residential building, Fatties Mansions.

    Police and army personnel indiscriminately rounded up men, women and children in an arbitrary operation which purported to be targeting criminal suspects but was focussed mainly on searching for “illegal immigrants”. South African citizens were also caught up in the mass arrests, which were conducted with military presence in the street.  

    “South African officials must stop targeting migrants and refugees, many whom are still traumatised by the xenophobic attacks that took place in March and April. South African authorities must ensure that all future operations intended to enforce immigration laws are conducted with full respect for the state’s domestic laws, as well as its international human rights obligations. Moreover, those whose rights have been violated in previous operations must have access to an effective remedy.” said Sicel’mpilo Shange-Buthane.

    South Africa has clear obligations under both international and domestic law to respect the principle of non-refoulement and ensure that there are no forcible returns of any person at risk of persecution or grave human rights violations.

    Additional information

    Dubbed operation “Fiela”, the official operation was launched on 27 April 2015 to rid the country of “illegal weapons, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities.”
    On 12 May the High Court issued an order constraining Home Affairs officials for two weeks from deporting any detainee arrested during the 8 May joint operation.

    The Court also ordered the Minister of Police and the commander of Johannesburg Central Police Station to provide by 13 May a list of all persons arrested to the Court and to Lawyers for Human Rights, who had been seeking access to them.

    All of the government respondents in the court action were also ordered to allow access for legal consultation to any or all of the detainees.  

    For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations 416-363-9933 ext 332