South Africa: deportations not connected to xenophobia | Africa | DW | 02.03.2017
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South Africa: deportations not connected to xenophobia

South Africa has been facing another wave of xenophobic attacks. This week, almost a hundred Nigerians were deported but authorities say the development is not connected to the anti-foreigner violence.

For the past four weeks, South Africa has witnessed xenophobic attacks on foreigners especially on Nigerians whom South Africans accuse of committing crimes and taking away their jobs. On Friday anti-immigrant protesters marched in the capital Pretoria. The protests turned violent and police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water canon to disperse demonstrators. Shops belonging to foreigners were looted. The protests are believed to be a result of dissatisfaction of unemployed South Africans, mostly young people.

‘'A lot of people here, especially the foreigners, blame Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba for these xenophobic attacks,'' says DW correspondent Thuso Khumalo. Mashaba was reported to have said ‘'all illegal immigrants in Johannesburg are committing crimes so they must go.''

Lack of documentation? 

On Tuesday some 97 Nigerians were deported after having been accused of committing various civil, criminal, and drug related offenses. The deportees were 95 men and two women. Uche Ajulu-Okeke, Nigeria's consul-general to South Africa, confirmed the deportations, but attributed it to a "lack of documentation". Okeke however, noted that some Nigerians claimed that their documents had been destroyed in anti-immigrant violence, making it difficult for them to prove that they had legal documents.

A foreign owner in his looted shop during the protest in Pretoria

A foreign shop owner surrveys his looted premises during the protests in Pretoria

"I don't think the deportations have anything to do with xenophobia. The people being deported are either living in South Africa illegally or who have committed several crimes,” said Abdullah Ahmed, a Nigerian lecturer at the University in Pretoria.

Six of the deportees are said to have been involved in drug offenses, 10 were arrested and deported for criminal offenses while others committed immigration offenses. According to Nigerian Immigration sources the deportees arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Nigeria on early Tuesday morning. Those deported for drug and criminal offenses were handed over to the police for prosecution while those with civil cases were allowed to go home.

Human rights violations 

According to Ahmed there are 800,000 Nigerians living in South Africa, which has a total population of 55 million. "Those deportations probably have to do with immigration operations which are carried out by the South African police from time to time. It is not unique to South Africa. There are also efforts by the Nigerian government to secuire the deportation of nationals from Libya.”

The Nigerian government this week called on the African Union to step in and stop "xenophobic attacks" on its citizens in South Africa. It claimed that 20 Nigerians had been killed in 2016 in allegedly in connection with drug trafficking and that no legal action was taken. Nigerian Senator Rose Oko pointed out that such actions violated Article 5 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which says that "no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

President Zuma insisted that South Africans were not xenophobic, and called on everyone, citizens and non-citizens, to work together to combat the country's high crime rate. Ahmed believes this is tantamount to telling people to take the law into their own hands which is clearly inadvisable. "When they are suspecting people to be criminals they should report it to their authorities rather than following the principle of street justice,"  Ahmed also dismissed suggestions that Nigerians in South African were panicking." There is nothing like panic, the Nigerians I talked to are not willing to leave the country. They have lived there for many years and they have their lives and families in South Africa.”

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