Arrest of migrants condemned after S.Africa xenophobia attacks
South African rights activists on Tuesday criticised the government for arresting about 1,000 suspected illegal immigrants in the wake of an outburst of deadly xenophobic violence when mobs hunted down foreign nationals.
Immigrant workers from Zimbabwe, Malawi and other African countries were targeted in weeks of unrest that left at least seven people dead and forced thousands to flee their homes.
The South Africa government sent the army in to help police arrest ringleaders behind the attacks, but it also launched a series of raids to pick up hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants.
In the latest raid, about 400 immigrants were arrested last Friday in an operation at the Central Methodist Church, a renowned shelter for refugees in downtown Johannesburg.
“Large sections of police have been unleashed on people,” Steve Faulkner, of the Coalition of Movements Against Xenophobia, told reporters.
“It was a military operation in the middle of the night… People were herded together and taken to the police station.”
Right to Know, a campaign group, called the mass arrests “state-funded xenophobia”.
“The raids were a heavy-handed response that have seen families being separated and led to various human rights abuses,” Murray Hunter, spokesman for the group, told AFP.
Millions of African migrants — many of them illegal — work in South Africa, often on construction sites or as casual labour.
Locals often blame them for stealing scarce jobs.
The Lawyers for Human Rights group said Tuesday it had secured a successful court application to delay the deportation of about 400 immigrants held by the authorities in Friday’s raid.
“We are very worried about how quick these deportations are taking place after the manner of the raids,” said Wayne Ncube, a human rights lawyer.
The government has defended Operation Fiela, meaning “clean sweep”, and said raids on workers’ hostels and informal settlements would continue.