Illegal immigrants have accused the South African police and Home Affairs Department of holding them hostage in police cells for over two months.A Zimbabwean man, who asked to be referred to as just Phakama, told The Witness that he and 19 other foreign nationals were being kept in “inhumane” conditions in a single cell at Loop Street police station as they wait to be deported back to their home countries.Phakama was arrested on December 12 last year while he was at the local Home Affairs offices trying to renew his permits after they had expired.“The Home Affairs officials called the police on me and I was arrested,” he said.Phakama appeared in court and was sentenced to three months. He said he served almost two weeks of his sentence at the Prestbury Medium B Prison and was released on parole with instructions from Home Affairs that he be deported back to Zimbabwe.“Instead of being taken to a Lindela camp to await my deportation, I was re-arrested and taken back to Loop Street police station where I have been kept for more than two weeks now.“Some of the guys here, who are also foreigners waiting to be deported, have been in here for more than two months. We spent Christmas and New Year’s here in this small cell,” said Phakama.He added that there were four Zimbabweans, 13 Malawians and two Lesotho nationals being kept in a cell with just one toilet to use. Phakama alleged that there were sickly people kept in the cell with him.“Some guys have deferred their ARV and TB treatments because they are not being given their medication, so they are very sick.“When the police officers come to check on us they wear those masks covering their mouths, but us who are locked in a cell with them are not given anything to protect ourselves.“We are not allowed visitors. We don’t have basics like toothbrushes and toothpaste and we haven’t had a change of clothes since we were released from Prestbury Medium B Prison,” he said.When they raised their concerns with the police they were told that the police were instructed by Home Affairs to keep them in the holding cells until their deportation papers were ready and that there was not much they could do to help them.“We have been in communication with the managers from the local Home Affairs office who told us that there were delays in Pretoria and there was not much they could also do here,” Phakama said.“We are being kept in inhumane conditions. Police cells were created to detain people for 48 hours, but we are being kept here for weeks now.”Phakama added that they had offered to finance their own paperwork with the hopes that this would fast-track the process of deporting them, but Home Affairs allegedly refused.'A violation of foreigners' human rights' Congolese national Moses Kilozo, who advocates for the rights of refugees and foreign nationals, said that “if what they [foreigners held at police cells] have told the media is true, then it is a violation of their human rights. “The South African Constitutions says that everyone has a right to basic needs and proper health care.”Kilozo said that even if these people were in the country illegally, the state has to treat them well and with dignity as they are human beings.“The Constitution also says South Africa belongs to everyone living in it so they must treat everyone well and with dignity,” he added.Kilozo said South Africans should not forget the hospitality they received from neighbouring countries when they went into exile during the apartheid era.He added that the foreigners held at police cells, awaiting deportation, should at least be allowed visitors as he would be able to organise basic essentials such as clothes, blankets and medication while they are locked up.Official explains the deportation processThe Department of Home Affairs’ acting uMgungundlovu and Harry Gwala districts operations director, Machete Modiba, said they were aware that foreigners were being detained at Loop Street police station’s police cells.He added that they are being detained for deportation for a period, not exceeding 30 days, while arrangements are made for deportation.Detailing the process of deporting illegal migrants, Modiba said that after they are arrested by the police, they are charged, appear in court and are sentenced.“When they finish serving their sentence they are collected from the relevant prison and handed over or arrested for deportation purposes.“The foreigner is then documented at Home Affairs, then taken to court within 48 hours for a magistrate to confirm their detention,” he added.Detention is usually for a period of 30 days but can be extended by a magistrate for deportation approvals and transport arrangements. If there are many immigrants, buses have to be arranged, which can also cause delays.Modiba said the documentation is then forwarded to the department’s head office in Pretoria for the requisition to be approved by the chief director of the Immigration Inspectorate.“Only once the office receives the approval of the requisition can arrangements be made for transportation to transport the foreigners to Lindela holding facility in Krugersdorp,” he added.Modiba said they were still waiting for approvals to go through levels of authority to ensure compliance with relevant prescripts in terms of the Immigration Act, before Phakama and other foreigners are taken to Lindela.The police failed to comment on the matter by the time of going to print on Wednesday.