NGO calls for ‘complete rethink of Operation Fiela’
More than 200 foreign nationals arrested last week at the Johannesburg Methodist Church during an Operation Fiela – Reclaim raid will not be sent back to their home countries on Wednesday — instead they will be speaking to their lawyers.
Human rights activitsts Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) on Tuesday secured a court order in the Johannesburg High Court halting the deportation of those held at Lindela repatriation centre for two weeks.
The order also requires the police to compile and hand over a list of arrested people‚ detailing the reasons for their arrest.
After LHR secured a court order allowing its lawyers access to their clients late last Friday‚ Johannesburg police station commanders refused to comply with it over the weekend.
Lawyers were only allowed to see two clients and those interviews were cut short‚ according to LHR’s submissions.
“Had we had a chance to consult with people over the weekend as we were supposed to‚ then we may not have had to bring this application‚” said LHR’s David Cote.
He said that after the next two weeks of consultations‚ the organisation would have a better idea of who was‚ or was not‚ documented and what exactly happened during the raid.
Cote said that after consulting those arrested‚ LHR could investigate human rights abuses that may have occurred.
LHR said it has heard reports that over 1000 people have been arrested under Operation Fiela — Reclaim‚ which means to “sweep clean”. The operation‚ launched in response to recent xenophobic attacks‚ has concerned several non-government organisations.
“To equate crime with the presence of undocumented people in our society is not tackling xenophobia‚ it is legitimising xenophobia‚” Stephen Faulkner from the People’s Coalition against Xenophobia said on Tuesday at a press conference held in Braamfontein‚ Johannesburg.
“We think it wholly inappropriate. We are asking for a complete rethink of Operation Fiela.”
“The emergence of Operation Fiela has left us ambivalent‚” said Marc Gbaffou from the African Diaspora Forum. He said that there was no good news to deliver to members on the African continent.
LHR’s director Jacob van Garderen said that he was worried about the manner in which people were being dealt with under the operation.
“The way in which they chose to verify the immigration status of people in those buildings is inappropriate...kicking down doors and dragging people into the street is unlawful and just inhumane‚” he said.
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