Lawyers for Human Rights gets access to foreigners arrested in raids

Johannesburg - The department of home affairs and the police narrowly escaped a contempt of court order on Tuesday by agreeing to let Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) consult with between 200 to 400 foreign nationals arrested in raids last week.

''The parties have come to an agreement. The applicant will be withdrawing the [contempt of court] application," said LHR advocate Julie-Anne Harwood in the High Court in Johannesburg.

The department of home affairs agreed to pay the costs of the application.

LHR had secured an urgent court order from Judge Zeenat Carelse on Friday to have access to those arrested in the pre-dawn raids after allegedly being blocked by the departments of home affairs, and police at Johannesburg Central Police Station.

But, in spite of the order, they were still not able to consult those detained, so they lodged an application for contempt of court.

During a morning of waiting, consultations in the small rooms outside the court, and drawing up of draft orders on the move, LHR and the departments reached an agreement which was endorsed by Carelse, who was hearing the matter again.

The first agreement was that LHR would withdraw its contempt of court application against the departments.

The second was that the LHR would be able to consult with those being detained at Lindela, a holding facility between Krugersdorp and Randfontein on the West Rand, at Johannesburg Central Police Station, and 22 women living at a shelter with their children. 

The interdict also means that those detained by the police and army during ''Operation Fiela'' in Johannesburg cannot be deported on Wednesday as planned.

Also, the LHR will have two weeks to get a list of names of those detained, time to check their papers to establish whether they are in South Africa legally or not, or whether they are refugees or have asylum papers. 

LHR had submitted in its application that not only were the police allegedly blocking access to those arrested, but that those detained were already being made to sign order relating to their being deported.

They had said that in terms of the Immigration Act, a refugee or asylum seeker could not be deported until their safety at their destination had been established.

Carelse, who allowed the withdrawal, and granted the order, had strong words for counsel for the State.

''This has been quite an unpleasant matter to the extent that an allegation of contempt was made,'' said Carelse.

''Kindly advise your clients that this is a settlement agreement and next time I might not say that... There should be complete adherence," she said to the State advocate Nomkhosi Nharmuravate.

Afterwards, LHR's David Cote said: ''They (the State) are required to put together a list by tomorrow (Wednesday) of all those detained on Friday. There is also an interdict against deportation for two weeks.''

He said that if they had been given a chance to consult with those arrested during the raids early on Friday morning, they would not have come to court.

He said the South Africans arrested during the raids had been released.

Cote said this court application related specifically to the raid in Johannesburg on Friday morning, but LHR could consult with others arrested in similar raids across the country.

The raids came after a spate of xenophobic attacks around the country. According to the police, ''Operation Fiela'' has led to 889 people being arrested in seven provinces so far.

In KwaZulu-Natal, 278 were arrested, 414 in Gauteng, 29 in the Free State, 24 in the Western Cape, 10 in the Northern Cape, nine in North-West and 125 in the Eastern Cape since April 27 2015.

''The arrests are for various offences and of the 889 arrested, 13 were arrested for drug-related crimes, 13 for assault, four for murder, two for unlicenced firearm and ammunition," a statement said.

The statement said that 745 people were arrested for being in the country without documentation and would be deported.

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