Operation Fiela comes to Port Elizabeth

MAY 14, 2015

Port Elizabeth police, the SANDF, the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Police and Home Affairs officials on Thursday launched a major raid around Durban Road in Korsten, Port Elizabeth, reportedly checking if all foreign nationals in the area are not in the country illegally.

The effort seems to be part of Operation Fiela, which was launched by government after xenophobic violence swept through KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last month.

It was not yet immidiately clear how many foreign nationals and criminals could have been arrested in today's operation.

The raids have already seen the arrests of many foreign nationals in Johannesburg and Durban in the past three weeks and government last Thursday said the operation will continue as long as they are required.

Still government said the operation, which has seen the arrest of more than 800 undocumented migrants, was not specifically targeted at foreigners.

“Operation Fiela is targeted in certain areas, which were areas pointed out to government by the communities as drug infested.

"These areas that the operation focuses on might have a lot of foreign nationals but there are also South Africans who are living in those areas. The arrests that have been made are not necessarily foreigners; they are South Africans who were found with illegal weapons and drugs.

“As a country that prides itself with having the best and most liberal Constitution in the world, we have taken a centre stage on human rights issues, [and] as such we cannot authorise an operation that will violate the human rights of any individuals or groups,” Acting Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams, told the media following a Cabinet meeting last week.


Criticism from civil society

Civil society organisations have condemned the raids as institutionalised xenophobia and called on the government to stop the arrests.

In a statement the organisations said while Operation Fiela, which means “sweep the dirt”, was ostensibly to address crime, it had instead focused primarily on foreign nationals.

“The arrests of hundreds of men and women through Operation Fiela have reportedly resulted in the loss or confiscation of property of foreign nationals, including the documentation that many migrants and refugees are holding to show that they are legally in South Africa.

"Families are being torn apart, as men and women are often separated from each other and their children; adults are being sent to the Johannesburg Central Police Station while children are taken, sometimes without their parents, to refugee camps,” said the statement.

The organisations said that the reality was that Operation Fiela was only deepening the stigmatisation of foreign nationals in South Africa, especially those from other African countries, and made it difficult for all foreign migrants to integrate into South African society, especially those who had been arrested in these raids.

“We demand that instead of continuing with these violent and human rights infringing raids and arrests, the government should focus its efforts on providing quality education, creating jobs and getting people out of poverty.

"Current state-led raids which disproportionately target African foreign nationals and paint them as criminals, are simply an attempt to divert attention from the ongoing socio-economic problems that have not been caused by immigrants, and will certainly continue whether or not foreign migrants live in South Africa.”

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