People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP) is a local non-profit organisation representing and advocating for refugees in South Africa. Established in 2007, the majority of its members are refugees (although for some reason its name does not indicate that fact). The Afrikaans word “pasop” means beware, and is often seen on “Beware of the dog” signs. However, last week it was the Department of Home Affairs (the DHA) who barked at PASSOP.
PASSOP’s grievance at the moment is the deportation of refugees back to Zimbabwe. According to PASSOP’s statement, thje moratorium of the deportation of refugees has been unofficially lifted by the DHA. The statement, which has been posted on the PASSOP website, claims that deportations have already started, and that this will have a negative impact on the national census which is about to commence in South Africa.
“PASSOP believes that increased deportations threaten stability in South African communities, with increased xenophobic and “Afrophobic” tensions a predictable result and the possibility of communities “witch hunting”, with neighbors turning on their neighbors, South Africans turning on fellow Africans. We believe that deportation is an Apartheid tendency and that deportations of fellow Africans is un-African,” the strongly worded statement reads.
In response to this statement, the DHA was no less strident. Deputy Director Ronnie Mamoepa countered PASSOP’s criticism by saying that the Zimbabwean documentation project was available to refugees to enable them to legalise their stay in South Africa.
The mandate of the Department of Home Affairs arising from our national constitution remains the need to manage immigration securely and efficiently within the laws of the Republic.
“In this regard, no country in the world will allow illegal immigration within its borders. This is international practice. This however does not detract from the need to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in line with our international obligations,” Mamoepa said.
“However, those who did not take advantage of the regularisation project including those who continue to undermine South Africa’s immigration laws by entering the country illegally cannot claim protection of the country’s rules and regulations governing the regularisation of Zimbabweans living in South Africa.”
Mamoepa also took issue with the way that PASSOP seems to be trying to represent all refugees in South Africa.
“It is our belief that PASSOP must stop pretending to be the spokesperson of Zimbabweans living in South Africa,” Mamoepa said. “In this regard, these Zimbabweans nationals speak for themselves through the established Home Affairs-Zimbabwe Stakeholder Forum, a mechanism created to regulate interaction between the Department of Home Affairs and representatives of various Zimbabwean organisations including the Zimbabwean Embassy and Consulate based in South Africa.”
The problem in this situation seems to be the tendency by PASSOP to sensationalise the issue. On the other hand, the DHA should take note of the concerns raised by a grassroots organisation. Many refugees may rather want to approach an organisation such as PASSOP than the DHA. But the question that remains is as to just how much support PASSOP actually has, and by whom. If PASSOP has a reputation of associating with illegal immigrants then the DHA’s attitude is to be expected. However, PASSOP’s grievance may also be due to delays in the documentation of refugees.