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Lawyer body wants detention centre shut

Resource type: News

Pretoria News |

Conditions at a detention centre for illegal foreigners near Musina were appalling and the centre should be declared unlawful, the Pretoria High Court heard yesterday.

Acting judge Joseph Raulinga reserved judgment in an application by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) against the police and the ministers of Home Affairs and Social Development.

LHR is seeking an urgent court order declaring the use of the Soutpansberg military grounds for detention and deportation unlawful. It wants the court to declare that conditions at the centre, and especially the way children are being treated, unlawful and unconstitutional.

LHR also wants the Home Affairs director-general to decide if the detention facility is a designated place of detention in terms of the Immigration Act, and, if not, to close the facility.

Steven Budlender, for LHR, argued that the centre was being used unlawfully to detain illegal foreigners pending deportation, without having being designated as such a facility by the director-general of Home Affairs, as required by the act.

He said people who had valid permits were being deported after their permits and other forms of identification were confiscated or destroyed by police. Detainees were also sometimes detained and deported by the police without any investigation or verification of their statuses.

Budlender said the facility was overcrowded and toilet facilities were inadequate. There were also no beds, only a limited number of mattresses and filthy blankets.

Men received only one large slice of bread with water in the morning, and women received a slice of bread with jam and tea when those were available.

Detainees were only occasionally given pap with a boiled chicken claw in the evening, and there was no baby food.

Even more worrying was that children were being detained with adults and were eventually deported with adult detainees without reference to the Social Development minister or his local agents, Budlender argued. He said this was a “blatant violation” of the constitution, the Child Care Act and the Immigration Regulations.

Counsel for the Home Affairs Department, TWG Bester, argued that the matter should be struck off the roll because LHR had been monitoring the detention centre since July, but only launched an application last month.

Bester said the centre was being used by police because of overcrowding at the police cells in Musina, and was therefore not unlawful.

The police also verified the status of foreigners as illegal foreigners before detaining them, he said. – Sapa