Zuma: Government will not tolerate illegal immigrants

President Jacob Zuma stressed that immigrants must be properly documented.

President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - President Jacob Zuma says government will not tolerate illegal immigrants.

Responding to questions in the National Council of Provinces, Zuma made a distinction between immigrants who brought skills and started businesses and those here illegally.

While he said South Africa had a duty to protect refugees and asylum seekers, he also emphasised that immigrants must be properly documented.

"We wish to emphasise that while working to create a welcoming atmosphere for foreign nationals, government will also not tolerate illegal immigrants."

Zuma also told MPs ' Operation Fiela-Reclaim', launched last week in the wake of the recent wave of attacks on immigrants, was an anti-crime and clean-up operation.

"The operation is aimed at ensuring that no area in the country remains in the control of crime syndicates and drug dealers."

But the operation, which saw the raid of the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg and attempted deportation of people arrested in the raid, has come under sharp criticism from NGOs, which say government is being xenophobic.

Concerns that the police and military operation is being used to arrest and deport immigrants, without giving them time to consult lawyers have been dismissed by Cabinet saying ' Operation Fiela-Reclaim' is not targeted at foreigners.

Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams condemned legal organisation Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) for its court application halting the deportation of people arrested in the raids.

"Let's say, for argument's sake, there has been violation of human rights, but you can't take a view as an organisation to say we will go to court only for the foreign nationals. South Africans whose rights have been violated, we don't care about them. I think it is a very wrong approach by that NGO."

LHR's Wayne Ncube says deportation is a long process, and government's announcement that 200 immigrants would be deported shortly after their arrest raises serious suspicions.

"Operation Fiela is targeted in certain areas, which are areas that were pointed to government by the consultation process and I should indicate that even the foreigners who were in those consultations, they did raise the problem of criminality that these guys that are robbing our shops are actually high, they are hooked on Nyaope," said Williams.

"Some of these deportations were planned for tomorrow, and there's such little turnaround time that procedurally all the things that are meant to happen in terms of law, it's a worry that these things are not happening."

The human rights organisation also says it will investigate the legality of the raids because it believes the action also failed to comply with the law.

A High Court has since ordered a moratorium on the deportation of more than 200 foreigners who were arrested during raids, to allow lawyers to speak to them.

Raids on hostels and areas seen as trouble hotspots began last month.

Additional reporting by Reuters.