Immigrants say no to temporary IDs
More than 1000 foreigners at the Glenanda temporary shelter in southern Johannesburg remained defiant yesterday, refusing to register for temporary identification cards at deadline.
The government has warned that those who did not register would be deported to their countries of origin. A decision will be taken today.
Officials said they would assess first and then act.
The residents had until yesterday to register for the identification cards, which allow them access to the shelter and legal protection against arrest for six months.
About 250 residents had registered by yesterday afternoon, bringing the number to 850, said Gauteng provincial government spokesman Thabo Masebe.
Masebe said the deadline for registration would not be extended and the Department of Home Affairs would decide today what would happen to those who failed to register.
"We can't have people who are not registered at the shelter. The Department of Home Affairs will make a decision when the process is complete and the situation has been assessed," said Masebe.
Residents refused to register yesterday, saying that they would rather be deported than live in South Africa.
"Let them deport us because we do not want to be reintegrated," said Delphin Kandolo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Residents argued that they were forced to apply for the cards, which they said would make them "illegal immigrants", despite their status.
"When you take the card, it means that you are a criminal and that you are in the country illegally. We are refugees, we have legal papers that allow us to be here," said a Congolese immigrant who did not want to be named.
Home Affairs spokesman Siobhan McCarthy said the cards did not "cancel or replace any valid documentation an individual may have received prior".
"Those individuals with valid permits such as work permits, asylum seeker permits or refugee status will not lose that status.
"Recipients of the exemption certificate maintain the right to apply for further documentation from the department," said McCarthy.
Emmanuel Nyakarachi of the Refugee Ministries Centre said there seemed to be a lack of "proper communication" between the residents and government officials.
Nyakarachi said the refusal to register for the cards suggested that the motives for the issuing of the cards was not properly explained.
He said the cards afforded undocumented immigrants a "grace period" of six months to apply for refugee status.
Nyakarachi said forceful deportation was not the answer, as the country was bound by international agreements not to return asylum seekers or refugees to countries where they were at risk of persecution.