Concern about fate of arrested Zim refugees

2009-04-08 00:00

A friend of one of the Zimbabwean refugees detained at Loop Street police station since last week is concerned about the refugees’ treatment at the station, especially as she was given false information regarding her friend’s whereabouts.

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said she went to Loop Street with her husband on Friday afternoon to see if there was anything they could do to help, only to be told that the refugees had been taken to Home Affairs.

“When we got to Home Affairs, we were told they knew nothing about it,” she said.

On Saturday she managed to get information about her friend’s whereabouts and it turned out he had been at Loop Street police station all along.

“Why were they arrested on Friday when Home Affairs only works again on Monday?” she said.

“We just want to know if they’re being fed, that they’re being treated humanely.” She said she has had word that they were given just a single slice of bread to eat.

She said she also wanted to make sure that they are not going to be shipped back to Zimbabwe.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) KZN representative, Texas Jiji, said they tried to communicate with the refugees.

“We managedto speak to them … and learnt that they had not had anything to eat on Friday,” he said.

Jiji said they are planning to take legal steps. “We have spoken to lawyers who can assist us,” he said.

He said the cells were overcrowded for much of Friday, and men and women were placed in the same cells along with children.

“They were only separated at 7 pm that evening,” he said. Parents who have young children were released on Friday.

Also in police custody is a woman who is nine months pregnant.

“We asked the police to release her, but they refused on the premise that she was a criminal as she had been in the country illegally,” said Jiji.

Jiji said the MDC has been keeping in contact with the refugees.

Midlands police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said the allegations were unfounded.

“The South African Police Service had identified Railway Street and surrounding areas as high crime areas, which resulted in a crime operation,” said Budhram. He said Home Affairs is part of the operation because of the high number of foreigners living in the area.

Budhram said 216 foreigners were taken into custody as they could not provide documents at the time to prove their entry was legal.

He said they were all taken to police stations in Pietermaritzburg where their documents were verified, and 113 of the foreigners were released.

“While in detention, all detainees are treated according to approved standards … ” said Budhram.

He said the SAPS will continue with similar crime operations in the future.

Of the 216 refugees who were arrested, 103 face deportation.

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