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South Africa: detention and deportation of Zimbabweans costly and ineffective

Detention and deportation of Zimbabweans costly and ineffective

"South Africa does not habitually detain asylum seekers and refugees. But we are worried about the situation facing Zimbabweans in the country. The moratorium on deportations to Zimbabwe, which has been in place since April 2009, will be lifted on 31 July 2011" said JRS Southern Africa Advocacy Officer, Robyn Leslie.

Johannesburg, 20 July 2011 – Immigration detention is extremely expensive, can harm the health and wellbeing of those detained and has been found not to be effective at deterring undocumented migrants, according to a report by the International Detention Coalition (IDC), of which JRS is a founding member.

Global research spanning two years and conducted by La Trobe University and the IDC found cheaper alternatives that work effectively in the interests of government, as well as migrants and refugees. Such alternatives maintain cooperation with authorities, including during return, while ensuring health and wellbeing.

"South Africa does not habitually detain asylum seekers and refugees. But we are worried about the situation facing Zimbabweans in the country. The moratorium on deportations to Zimbabwe, which has been in place since April 2009, will be lifted on 31 July 2011" said JRS Southern Africa Advocacy Officer, Robyn Leslie.

"There are an estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans in South Africa, of which about 150,000 are in the asylum process, and 133,000 have been documented through a special documentation process which was carried out over 2010/2011. It would be a disaster for vulnerable Zimbabweans and for Zimbabwe if South Africa began widespread detention and deportation", added Ms Leslie.

Moreover, there is no evidence such an approach would produce the intended effects and reduce undocumented migration. Prior to April 2009, South Africa removed hundreds of Zimbabweans each month. According to IDC research, this practice has had little or no deterrent effect, with many deportees returning to the country, and alternatives to detention should be introduced.

Alternatives, humane and cost-effective

IDC international research found that alternatives to detention are reliable and work for the government, community and individuals. It also found high compliance rates within the community, including those facing return, when individuals are supported to explore all legal avenues. Absconding rates were as low as one percent. In addition, independent and voluntary repatriations in the EU and Australia cost approximately 70 percent less when compared to escorted removals.

"There are effective, humane and cost-effective alternatives to detention that are achieving high compliance rates and cost less than detention. These can easily be expanded for individuals subject to return and removal", said Grant Mitchell, IDC Director.

Such alternatives cost much less than detention. An estimated cost saving of 93 percent was noted in Canada and 69 percent in Australia on alternatives to detention compared to regular detention costs.

The full report as well as an introduction for policy makers is available on http://idcoalition.org/capfindings/