Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist

Motsoaledi says SA can’t involve US government in Afghan nationals asylum saga

The Department of Home Affairs is in the process of seeking legal advice.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says the South African government cannot rope in the United States (US) to help deal with the Afghanistan nationals seeking asylum in South Africa.

Motsoaledi briefed Parliament following the legal battle between the Department of Home Affairs and the Afghan nationals.

An American non-government organisation (NGO) took the department to court after the asylum seekers were refused entry at the Beitbridge Border Post in Limpopo on 16 February.

However, the Pretoria High Court on 1 March ruled in favour of The Lifeline Foundation, ordering that the 22 people be allowed to stay in South Africa and to apply for asylum transit visas.

The group are believed to have left Afghanistan due to the Taliban. They fled to Pakistan then Qatar before settling in Zimbabwe.

‘Easy to enter SA’

On Tuesday, Motsoaledi told the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs that “a number of people in the state” were not happy about the Department of Home Affairs’ decision to abide by the court ruling.

“They believe this matter must be appealed because the fear was that the judgment says these people have a reason to be scared for their lives.

“In essence, it will mean anybody in any part of the world who becomes fearful can just take whatever they have and run to the nearest border in South Africa and that was disturbing to many people,” he said.

The minister said it was suspicious that the 22 people were seeking asylum in South Africa and that he believed that the Afghans could pose a risk to the country because of an “arrest or death warrant”, which was written in Arabic, sent to them.

“In Zimbabwe, they said they are holidaymakers and were given visas on arrival, but it was for 30 days. We were then surprised why somebody who went to Zimbabwe as a holidaymaker and all these countries is now coming to South Africa as an asylum seekers,” Motsoaledi continued.

WATCH: Giving Afghan nationals asylum in SA could pose a risk – Motsoaledi

“The other thing that was raised in court but which the judge did not accept because he said it’s not in the affidavit, was that they argued that they went from Afghanistan into Pakistan and then when they were there, the Taliban followed them to Pakistan and then attacked them.

“That’s why they left. The judge rejected that kind of evidence on the basis that it was not on their affidavit. They can’t just start raising it in court.”

He pointed out that the group’s lawyer indicated that they chose to come to South Africa because of the country’s “weak” immigration laws.

“The gentleman said they have studied the laws of all these countries and believe that the country that is possibly easy to enter is South Africa.”

Another reason, Motsoaledi explained, was that the US government denied the asylum seekers entry.

Watch the meeting below:

‘Blatant abuse’

Some members of the committee expressed concern over the matter.

“The way the 22 individuals have handled their coming into the country leaves a lot of unanswered questions, especially if they go to another country masquerading as holidaymakers,” Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Angel Khanyile said.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) Liezl Van der Merwe said the asylum seekers’ actions amounted to “a blatant abuse of South Africa and our autonomy as a state”.

“The fact of the matter is that we have got laws and as soon as we want to implement those laws then we get these NGOs that run to the courts to compel us to do something else. I’m really quite angry about this situation that we find ourselves in.

“An American NGO is telling us about our international obligations yet they have an obligation to take care of the refugees. It wasn’t South Africa that engaged in a war in Afghanistan,” Van der Merwe argued.

READ MORE: We’ll not apologise for managing our borders, other countries do it too, says Motsoaledi

Furthermore, DA MP Adrian Roos said Parliament needed to look at the country’s legal framework on immigration.

“As legislators, we also need to stay level headed and look at why the court ordered Home Affairs to allow the asylum seekers in.”

ANC MP Brandon Pillay shared the same sentiments, saying the country needed to address the “loopholes” in its laws.

“If there was real intention, then they would have come straight to South Africa. So clearly, there is something that we have to do as a country because we have to be able to protect the interests of our citizens.”

In addition, the committee’s chairperson, Mosa Chabane, said they were in support of appealing the judgment.

Meanwhile, Motsoaledi also told the committee that Home Affairs, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), cannot approach the US Embassy in Pretoria.

“It is a little tricky because the American government has never at any juncture contacted us about Afghans in whatever way,” he said.

“Our argument is that we can’t hold a government responsible for its NGOs because they form outside the realm of government. So up to so far, [I don’t] think we can find our way through to go to the American embassy because there’s no indication that they sent anybody to represent them in the matter.”

The minister revealed that his department was in the process of seeking legal advice.

The Afghan nationals are currently in Lusaka, Zambia, according to Home Affairs director-general Tommy Makhode.

NOW READ: ‘We don’t even know them’ – Motsoaledi questions objectives of Afghans seeking asylum

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