Illegal immigrants arrested during a joint operation will be deported to their home countries, a government official said on Sunday.
“These individuals will be deported and handed over to officials in their respective countries,” the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) spokesperson, Mayihlome Tshwete told Xinhua in a telephone interview.
He conceded that it was a challenge for South Africa to deport hundreds of illegal immigrants arrested so far, but he said the department would be obliged to deport the immigrants within the stipulated 30 days.
The South African government has been cracking down on undocumented illegal immigrants, most of them from African countries, following the recent spate of xenophobia attacks in parts of the country.
The South African Police Service (SAPS), the army and the DHA launched the joint operation known as “Fiela” (meaning “sweep” in the Sotho language) soon after the xenophobia attacks stoped.
On Saturday, law enforcement agents swooped on suspected illegal immigrants staying in high density areas in Durban and Johannesburg, arresting over 500 people.
So far over 1,000 illegal immigrants have been arrested and are waiting for deportation.
However, some nongovernment organizations thinks “It is an ill- timed and politically motivated exercise.”
“We believe that in as much as it comes during xenophobic attacks, this operation amounts to persecution and is rightly nicknamed xenophobia in uniform.” said Zimbabwe Exile Forum President Gabriel Shumba.
While xenophobic violence has died down following the deployment of the army two weeks ago, nongovernmental organizations urged the South African government not to incite violence against foreign nationals.
Several nongovernment organizations on Sunday held a demonstration at the Johannesburg Central Police Station in protest against raids on foreign nationals.
Some Zimbabweans residing in South Africa said they are afraid that Zimbabweans are likely to be affected most by the wave of deportations.
The South African Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) has also expressed grave concern about the raids on foreign nationals, especially in the middle of the night.
LHR also accused the South African authorities of not doing enough to halt the wave of xenophobic violence.
“The loss of life and displacement of thousands of foreign nationals call for an urgent and competent intervention,” Stephen Fauler of LHR said during the demonstration.
The recent spate of xenophobia violence was largely blamed on a speech in late March by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini who urged foreigners to “take their bags and go.” But the king said later his words were misinterpreted.
South Africa’s economy grew by just 1.5 percent last year and unemployment is at around 36 percent, ascending to over 50 percent among young people. Foreigners are blamed for taking up local jobs, thus pushing up unemployment rate.
Statistics showed that in 2011 the country was home of 1.7 million foreigners. But the actual figure could be much higher as thousands of undocumented immigrants avoid being counted for fear of exposing themselves to arrests and deportation. Enditem