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condemns police raid on the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg
Human Rights (LHR)
January 31, 2008
for Human Rights (LHR) condemns the unlawful and heavy handed police
raid on the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg on the
31st January 2008. The raid appeared to be directed at
vulnerable homeless persons and persons seeking asylum and sanctuary
at the Central Methodist Church.
of those arrested are asylum seekers from Zimbabwe who left their
country due to ongoing political persecution, human rights violations
and extreme poverty caused by the actions of Zimbabwe’s political
number of documented persons were arrested along with persons who
had either received an appointment to lodge their asylum claims
at the Department of Home Affairs or were in the process of lodging
these claims. The problem however, was that Home Affairs failed
to issue any documentation to these persons indicating their immigration
status in the country. Any raid targeting illegal foreigners should
be carried out in conjunction with the Department of Home Affairs,
yet there was little evidence of a Home Affairs’ presence during
this particular raid.
nationals who come to South Africa seeking refuge from persecution
are entitled to apply to Home Affairs for temporary asylum seekers
permits which enable them to remain in the country lawfully until
their claim has been adjudicated and a decision is made regarding
their refugee status. However, in reality most asylum seekers find
it extremely difficult to make asylum applications due to the inaccessibility
of the Department of Home Affairs refugee reception offices.
the Johannesburg Refugee Reception Office in Rosettenville remains
closed for new applications since 2005 despite several High Court
orders to re-open the office. All Johannesburg-based asylum seekers
are compelled to go to the refugee office in Pretoria where they
are forced to queue for weeks outside the office in hazardous conditions.
In the circumstances it is impossible for asylum seekers to comply
with the law to become documented.
and detention of bona fide asylum seekers is unlawful, and their
deportation is specifically prohibited by SA law. In fact, the Refugees
Act prohibits the deportation of asylum seekers to countries where
they risk further insecurity and persecution.
police raid itself appears to have been patently unlawful as no
search warrant was produced at the Church during the course of the
raid. Section 33(5) of the Immigration Act requires immigration
officers to obtain a warrant to enter or search premises, or apprehend
an illegal foreigner. A raid for all purposes may only be carried
out with a warrant, with the permission of the person in control
of the premises, or without a warrant if the immigration officer
has reasonable grounds to believe that the delay caused in obtaining
a warrant would defeat the object of the search and entry, which
would certainly not have been the case in last night’s planned raid
on the church.
Act also stipulates that searches, with or without a warrant, must
be carried out during the day, unless expressly authorised for execution
at night. Regardless, searches must be conducted with ‘strict regard
to decency and order’ which includes the right to the protection
of dignity, freedom and security, and personal privacy.
is not the first time the police have conducted unlawful raids targeting
foreign nationals and asylum seekers; but the proportions of last
night’s raid exceeded the illegal police action of previous occasions.
disgraceful treatment by the police stands in stark contrast to
the preamble of the Immigration Act which dictates that immigration
policing be conducted in a way that will promote a human rights
for Human Rights is also concerned about the treatment of children
who we believe were among the group of people arrested and detained
last night. This is especially alarming as the Bill of Rights
and the Children’s Act prohibits the detention of children, unless
the arrest and detention is a measure of last resort, in which case
the child has to be detained separately from adults and there is
a duty on the state to locate and notify their parents or guardians
immediately upon arrest.
light of the above LHR demands that:
- the people
who were arrested be released immediately;
police desist from carrying out similar future raids;
Department Home Affairs immediately re-opens the Refugee Reception
Office in Johannesburg to allow all asylum seekers access to
the asylum process as they are obliged to do by law.
for Human Rights will be providing legal assistance to persons arrested
of adversely affected during the course of this raid.
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