Lindela Refugee Centre Activities: Bosasa briefing; Refugee Stakeholder meeting: Committee planning

Home Affairs

10 August 2005
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HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
11 August 2005
LINDELA REFUGEE CENTRE ACTIVITIES: BOSASA BRIEFING; REFUGEE STAKEHOLDER MEETING: COMMITTEE PLANNING

Chairperson:
Mr H Chauke (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Bosasa PowerPoint presentation

SUMMARY
Bosasa officials briefed the Committee on the operations of Bosasa, a black economic empowerment group of companies. They outlined their ethos, core business, clientele, and corporate social investment programme. Bosasa managed the Lindela Accommodation Centre on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs. They described the diverse responsibilities of the SA Police Services (SAPS), the Department, and Bosasa regarding illegal aliens. Officials finally highlighted the challenges faced by the Lindela Accommodation Centre.

Members discussed the forthcoming meeting with refugees’ stakeholders with officials from the Department, the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs, and Africa United. The meeting would take place on 30 August 2005. Africa United would assist the Committee with identifying groups of refugees to ensure that their participation was fruitful and co-ordinated.

MINUTES

Bosasa briefing
Mr P Leshabane, Bosasa Chairperson and Director: Lindela and Sondolo Information Technology, outlined Bosasa’s ethos, core business, operations, clientele, and corporate social investment. Bosasa managed the Lindela Accommodation Centre on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs, offering services such as accommodation; catering; maintenance and technical services; secure care; administration; training and development; health and safety; recreation, and office facilities for consulate and human rights organisations. Bosasa had no authority over the apprehension, detention, repatriation or release of any person at Lindela.

Dr M Chabula, Bosasa Director and Head of Medical Services, outlined the medical services offered at Lindela. She pointed out that from January until July 2005 seven deaths had occurred at Lindela and 21 at the Leratong hospital.

Mr J Gumede, Bosasa Chairperson and Director: Security, described the services provided regarding secure care at Lindela.

Mr Leshabane pointed out the structure of daily and monthly reports that Bosasa submitted to the Department. He then described the challenges faced at the Lindela Accommodation Centre, which included lack of benchmarks, high staff turnover, and deaths. The Department paid Bosasa R59 per person per day. The dependence of their payment on the fluctuating number of inmates was reason for concern. Bosasa had 147 full-time employees. Lindela accommodated approximately 4 000 detainees.

Discussion
The Chairperson said that when the Committee had visited Lindela in 2004, Members had encountered satisfying conditions unlike those described in the media. The Committee would engage with the Department regarding concerns voiced during their presentation. He queried what measures Bosasa was undertaking to address some of these problems.

Mr Leshabane replied that they had met with the Department earlier this year to review the service level agreement. They were still waiting for their response on certain issues they had discussed. The day-to-day co-ordination with the local management at Lindela was unproblematic.

Mr M Sibande (ANC) was pleased about Bosasa’s corporate social investment in the Aids Village in Port Elizabeth. He raised concern about the effectiveness of Bosasa’s Youth Projects, particularly in the rural areas.

Ms T Makoko, Chairperson and Director: Bosasa Youth Centres, replied that Bosasa currently had two youth centres in Gauteng, two in the Western Cape and one in Limpopo. They focused mainly on awaiting-trial children. The problem was the reintegration of these children into their communities. Bosasa provided skills development and therapeutic intervention. They tried to contact their parents, and provided transport from rural areas to their facilities to ensure that parents could visit their children. Bosasa engaged with the Department of Social Development to tackle the problems encountered at the Polokwane Youth Centre in Limpopo. Bosasa also provided soup kitchens and community computer centres. Bosasa youth development concentrated on prevention, assistance during the awaiting trial period, and aftercare programmes. They also assisted the youth in finding employment. Bosasa co-operated with the Open Society Foundation in Mpumalanga.

Mr Sibande asked whether the Bosasa system was linked to that of the Department. Mr Leshabane replied that their system was not linked to that of the Department. The idea was to compare two independent systems.

Mr Gumede added that one of the tender requirements was that the system of the contractor had to talk to that of the Department. The Department had addressed this matter.

The Chairperson remarked that over 20 new computers had been stolen from Lindela in 2004. This had not been reported. He had written to the Director-General and asked for a report on the incident. He queried whether Bosasa was aware of the matter.

Mr Gumede replied that they knew about the break-in that had occurred at Lindela. Previously, they had had cameras installed in that section of Lindela. The new management had given instructions to remove these cameras. Bosasa had pointed out to the Department that there was currently no security system on that site.

The Chairperson asked whether the official who had instructed them to remove the cameras was from the Department. Mr Gumede replied in the affirmative.

Mr Sibande asked for more information on the statistics of detainees from neighbouring countries, and asked how long people from these countries were held at Lindela. The fact that South Africans were sometimes detained at Lindela was reason for concern.

Mr Leshabane replied that the majority of detainees at Lindela were from neighbouring countries, mainly from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Illegal immigrants often used the Limpopo Transfrontier Park that ran from the Kruger National Park into Zimbabwe and Mozambique to cross the border into South Africa. Detainees from neighbouring countries stayed an average of four to eight days at Lindela. There were weekly trains back to their home countries. There were however also people at Lindela who had been there for five to six months.

Ms A Van Wyk (ANC) asked whether there was a problem with violence at Lindela, and how this had been dealt with. She further queried whether they were in discussion with the Department about the problem of lack of benchmarks.

Mr Leshabane replied that they had discussed with the South African Human Rights Commission and relevant human rights lawyers what standard should be used to evaluate Bosasa’s activities. Unfortunately, they did not receive enough feedback from people who visited Lindela.

Mr Gumede replied that there was usually an increase of violence during the Christmas period. Police from Krugersdorp were always ready to intervene in case of an escalation of violence. Lindela also had security staff. Violence on a day-to-day basis occurred frequently between detainees from different countries. However, these incidences were generally not serious and easy to deal with.

The Chairperson asked how people who stayed at Lindela for only a short period of time influenced violent behaviour among inmates. Mr Gumede replied that friction was frequently caused between inmates who had been at Lindela for a few months and others who only stayed there for a few days. The situation was generally under control. In rare cases, the police would get involved.

The Chairperson remarked that there were illegal South Africans in Mozambique. Most of them were women. The conditions in Mozambican prisons were different to those encountered in South Africa.

Ms S Kalyan (DA) queried the capacity of Lindela. Mr Leshabane replied that Lindela had the capacity to accommodate 4004 detainees.

Ms Kalyan asked for more information on the causes of deaths as it had been stated that the reasons were not always clear. Mr Gumede answered that the main problem was to find relatives of the deceased. These relatives were needed to sign certain documents that allowed performing an autopsy to discover the cause of death. Without relatives, an autopsy could only be carried out if there was a criminal case. If the cause of death was natural, however, no criminal case could be opened. This system was unsatisfying and often caused delays. Embassies could assist by being allowed to sign the documents required for autopsy on behalf of family members.

Dr Chabula added that if a death occurred at the Liratong hospital, Home Affairs would immediately be informed. A natural cause of death was assumed unless an autopsy was requested.

Mr Leshabane said that it was crucial to establish a set of standards they could rely upon.

Ms Kalyan asked whether the current policy had to be expanded or whether new regulations or legislation were needed. Mr Leshabane replied that the current policy had to be expanded. Research needed to be done on what Lindela had to deliver. Some South Africans did not have access to the same services that detainees at Lindela had. A balance had to be found between international standards and the specific South African situation.

Mr V Williams, Institute for Democracy in SA (IDASA) Project Manager: Southern African Migration Project added that it was an ongoing problem that people’s perceptions and standards changed over time. He agreed that a set of standards had to be established. Broad consultation with human right lawyers and the Department on the necessary standards were needed. Minimum standards were not acceptable.

Mr Sibande expressed concern about the security measurements at Lindela. He wondered why it was so easy to use cameras inside Lindela, even though it was strictly prohibited. Information should be provided about how many women and children were at Lindela at any time.

Mr Gumede replied that only the media was allowed to carry cameras inside Lindela. There were a few cases of smuggling that involved the taking of pictures. The real challenge, however, was that inmates were allowed to keep their cell phones. Nowadays, most cell phones could take pictures. This problem had to be addressed.

Ms Van Wyk remarked that following a public participation process would be crucial in establishing a benchmark. If there was a continual high staff turnover at Home Affairs, that benchmark could be relied upon.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would meet on 31 August with the Department to voice some of the concerns. The fact that Bosasa got paid R59 per person per day did not make sense. The issue of deaths was reason for concern. The co-ordination between the Lindela Accommodation Centre, Home Affairs and relevant stakeholders had to be improved.

Meeting with refugee stakeholders
The Chairperson said that he had previously met with Mr Williams (IDASA Project Manager: Southern African Migration Project) and Africa United. A number of stakeholders were involved in the issue of refugees. South Africa had a Refugee Act, conventions and protocols. The biggest challenge was to respond to these protocols and to address the needs of refugees. The documentation of refugees and their integration were areas that needed particular attention. Refugees had to be given the opportunity to voice their concerns to Parliament.

There was a backlog of approximately 180 000 asylum-seekers that had not yet been processed. This situation was unacceptable. International standards had to be adhered to. A meeting was intended for 30 August with the refugee community at the Old Assembly Chamber at Parliament, where approximately 300 people could be accommodated. A second meeting would subsequently take place in Johannesburg. The Committee would write a report on their findings and table it in Parliament at the beginning of next year. He asked for information on the activities of the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs.

Mr C Schravesande, Chairperson: Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs replied that the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs had been established in January 2004. They had encountered initial difficulties to be independent from the Department. The Committee dealt with refugees who had been in South Africa for extended periods and applied for permanent residence in terms of the Immigration Act. Thus far they had finalised about 750 cases. The Committee was currently the most productive part of immigration in South Africa. The Committee was undertaking a round of training in their refugee reception offices. There was a serious lack of knowledge among those who were dealing with refugee matters. The main issues to be addressed were the protection and welfare of refugees, and finding a lasting solution for them.

The Chairperson asked how the Committee could assist them in achieving their objectives. Mr Schravesande answered that the Committee could provide them with information about both the current situation and legislative requirements.

The Chairperson asked Mr Williams to comment on the Committee’s planned meeting with the refugee community. Mr Williams replied that he was pleased about the intended meeting. One difficulty, however, was to organise the refugee communities so that they could participate effectively. Holding an open meeting with refugees seemed problematic as it was likely to be uncoordinated and could turn into a protest meeting. He suggested identifying organised groups that both worked with refugees and consisted of refugees. There were, however, not many such groups. Africa United was a good example of a well-organised group. A prior meeting before the actual meeting might be useful in order to outline the formal agenda for 30 August. The meeting had to be co-ordinated without being too controlled.

Ms M Maunye (ANC) asked about the situation of refugees in South Africa in comparison to other African countries.

Mr Williams replied that South Africa had made impressive strides in terms of dealing with asylum-seekers and refugees. The South African Refugees Act was probably one of the best in the world. There had been considerable developments at the legislative and policy level. The challenge was the implementation of these policies. The refugee issue in South Africa was relatively small compared to Zambia or Tanzania, for instance. The problem was that the political will had not been expressed adequately. It was for this reason that the intended meeting was of great importance. There had been a lack of public statements from Ministers about the obligation of the government towards asylum-seekers and refugees. The forthcoming meeting with the refugee community could change their perception that the South African government was not interested in addressing their needs.

Ms Moyisela (Africa United) suggested providing background information to refugees on what they were legally entitled to.

Mr Z Nkongolo (Africa United) said that they could identify a number of groups of refugees by the end of the following week.

Mr Schravesande remarked that the Provincial Departments of Health and Education also had an important role to play. The Chairperson agreed that the provincial departments had to be invited.

Ms Moyisela suggested advertising the meeting in the newspapers in order to ensure that anybody who showed an interest could participate. The Chairperson replied that a standard invitation would be sent out.

Mr W Baxter, Head of the Refugee Office in Cape Town, said that the input of the Department of Home Affairs at the meeting would be crucial.

The Chairperson replied that the Department was expected to give an input at the meeting. Africa United had to assist the Committee with identifying groups of refugees and outlining the agenda for the meeting. The venue for the meeting still had to be decided upon. The integration of the refugees was the main objective.

Mr Schravesande suggested a presentation on the two recent initiatives of the Department that related to the refugee situation in South Africa prior to the meeting on 30 August. The Chairperson replied that they were aware of these initiatives and had already read the provided documents.

Ms Van Wyk remarked that they had to decide on the scope of the presentation before they could send out the invitations. The Chairperson agreed.

The meeting was adjourned.

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