Cells overflow with illegal border crossers

Cells in police stations near the Mozambique border are overcrowded due to the large amount of people that cross the border illegally.

KOMATIPOORT – The police had their hands full in the first 10 days of 2017, with a total of 110 undocumented immigrants stopped by the SANDF at the border post and handed to SAPS and Department of Home Affairs officials for further processing.

As a result, holding cells in police stations near the Mozambique border, such as Komatipoort, are overcrowded.

According to Lt Col Piet Paxton, staff officer of operational communication of SANDF’s Joint Operations, these figures are expected to increase drastically, and the holding conditions to exarbate, when more migrant workers cross the border next week.

He confirmed that on Monday there was not sufficient capacity in SAPS Komatipoort’s holding cells to keep the illegal immigrants, and some had to be processed at Matsulu Police Station. “It is our responsibility to apprehend the undocumented persons,” Paxton explained. “We can’t arrest them. We give them over to the police in a good and healthy condition and obtain a SAPS reference number for every person.

There have been incidents where those handed over were released, only to return over the border within two hours, due to the capacity problem at the cells.

In one case, an undocumented woman with a baby on her back tried to cross back into South Africa within hours of being released by SAPS. “We can’t just hand them over and leave,” Paxton said. “We have to see to it that these persons are taken to a station where there is capacity to hold them.”

The Mpumalanga police say space is usually a problem at this time of year. “We had to start utilising holding cells at police stations near Komatipoort,” Mpumalanga SAPS spokesman, Sgt Gerald Sedibe, said. “There are enough other stations, such as Matsulu, Tonga and Schoemanskloof, where we can keep these undocumented persons until they can be handed over to Home Affairs officials for court cases.”

He added that space was kept for any criminals of serious crimes.

Illegal immigrants’ internment in the holding cells can last up to two weeks.

Police are also investigating the death of a man after his body was found in the veld near Lebombo Border on Sunday. He has not been identified and the cause of death is still being determined.

The smuggling of goods through the border is rife. Paxton confirmed that a Dyna truck worth R400 000 was found deserted in the veld and was handed over to the police on Sunday.

Over the weekend contraband with an estimated value of R30 000 was confiscated from illegal immigrants and handed to the police.

Ms Jeanine Mqulwana, senior specialist of media liaison at SARS, confirmed that SARS Customs seized suspected counterfeit sneakers value at R8,7 million at the border on December 28. A total of 9 085 pairs of “Adidas” and 1 850 pairs of “Nikes” were discovered in a white truck entering South Africa from Mozambique.

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