Claude Schravesande, the director of Admissions and Aliens Control, told IRIN on Wednesday that people fleeing natural disasters are not classified as refugees under international conventions on refugees. "We consider refugees as those people who flee their countries because of political persecution. Any aliens entering South Africa illegally will be sent back."
Schravesande said South Africa's home affairs ministry was not expecting an imminent influx of Mozambicans because the floods have washed away roads, bridges and rail lines: "We may start seeing the arrival of Mozambicans only after the floods have subsided. However, we will continue to deal with them the way we deal with any illegal aliens."
Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano said on Wednesday that one million people were "on the move" - forced to abandon their homes as flood waters continue to rise in what has become the country's worst natural disaster in living memory.
Schravesande confirmed that hundreds of Mozambicans are currently being held in custody awaiting deportation onboard the immigration department's weekly rail-run to the border post of Ressano Garcia. "The deportations to Mozambique, both by road and rail were stopped for two weeks because of the unpassable roads due to floods. However, the trips were started again this week," he said.
UNHCR Representative in South Africa Mengesha Kebede told IRIN that people fleeing natural disasters do not qualify as refugees. "The UNHCR will assist with the settlement of externally displaced people if called upon by the host government. However, it is up to the host government how it deals with people entering their country fleeing natural disasters," he said.
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