The painful process of getting asylum
By Hassan Isilow
Martin Mazibuko, a Zimbabwean national slept at the former Nyanga refugee centre for six month before Home Affairs officials approved his asylum application. The 33-year-old Zimbabwean told Africa witness that while at Nyanga refugee centre, he used to queue with other refugees every day, but only those with money were served by corrupt officials.
“I slept in front of Nyanga refugee centre for six continuous months. I was abused and assaulted several times by security officials manning the centre, because I didn’t have money to bribe them,” the upset Zimbabwean national revealed. He pointed to a scar on his arm, reportedly inflicted on him by the greedy security officers. Mazibuko revealed that the abuse, discrimination and corruption that he observed in person while at the infamous centre left him psychologically scarred.
“The physical torture I got from the security officers at Nyanga has healed, but the psychological torture will take long to go away,” he said. The infamous refugee centre was recently relocated to a new building at 412 Voortrekker Road in Maitland. The move was forced after a group of 20 businesses in Nyanga complained that activities at the centre were disturbing their businesses.
According to Mazibuko, during the time that he camped out at the refugee centre, on average 80 asylum seekers were forced to sleep there with him, in the hopes of being served in the morning. “Mornings used to be our biggest nightmare, because only those with money used to be served. Those of us who slept in the queues were neglected.”
When asked why didn’t they protest and seek government attention, the Zimbabwean said the Home Affairs officials had warned them not to move far from the refugee centre because they would be arrested for being illegal in the country. “Some of my friends who stopped sleeping at this centre and moved around in the city were arrested and deported back home. So this made us fearful,” he confided.
He finally got an asylum document after the Minister of Home Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, paid a visit to Nyangar and warned officials there against corruption and mistreatment of foreign asylum seekers. “If the minister had not visited this centre, I swear the winter would have killed us,” said the Zimbabwean national.
In September 2009, police arrested two Home Affairs officials, and a middle man who used to reportedly solicit for bribes and sell identity documents to foreign nationals on behalf of the home office officials. Police spokesperson Superintendent Andre Traut said the suspects operated a crime syndicate at the facility, causing havoc for the immigrants seeking documentation.
“These officials operated a gang that would solicit bribes or sell documents to desperate refugees,” Traut told Africa witness. While, Braam Hanekom of the organisation, People against Suppression, Suffering and Oppression (Passop), confirmed this statement to Africa witness. He said government needs to act fast in removing middle men from operating at Home Affairs refugee centres.
According to Hanekom, the same gangs that operated in Nyanga have shifted base to the new facility in Maitland. “These gangs solicit bribes, threaten and intimidate those who don’t have the money to offer,” he said. He advised to authorities to check these criminal gangs before their activities intensify.