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Respect, defend their dignity

by Lesotho Times
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AT least 150 illegal immigrants from Lesotho were deported from South Africa last week in what the authorities said was the biggest group of deportees to be kicked out of that country in recent years.
Reports say most of the deported immigrants were working as labourers at 2010 World Cup construction sites in Cape Town and Rustenburg.
Others, we understand, were working as domestic workers in cities and towns spread across South Africa.
The deportation of these migrant workers must have been a truly traumatic experience for these poor souls who included a woman and her one-month-old baby.
If there is anything that vividly captures the plight of Basotho migrant workers, this is it.
As a newspaper that has always had a soft spot for the underprivileged and downtrodden we feel the government of Lesotho must intervene to ensure a more humane approach towards these deportations.
It is true that there is an element of illegality concerning these workers who sometimes cross over into South Africa without valid work permits.
But that aside the government of South Africa, through its notorious home affairs ministry, needs to protect the rights of illegal immigrants and respect their dignity as individuals.
The stories from the deportees about their abuse at the hands of South African immigration officials are, to put it mildly, quite shocking.
They also appear to be well-corroborated to be a product of fictional minds.
In most of these stories we see a trail of abuse by corrupt immigration officials.
Last week’s deportations, which were reportedly conducted under inhumane conditions, vividly captured the plight of migrant workers from Lesotho as well as other countries in the region.
Most of the immigrants do not have work permits to allow them to work legally in South Africa.
They are in South Africa illegally and therefore are prone to deportations and abuse.
While the law makes it an offence to employ individuals without valid work papers, employers in South Africa continue to flout the law with impunity.
The deterrent against employing illegal immigrants appears not stiff enough to discourage the practice.
As a result we continue to see employers in South Africa particularly on farms resort to cheap, illegal migrant labour.
These employers are in the shameless habit of recruiting illegal Basotho migrants only to fire them or set them against the police around pay-day.
The idea, it seems, is to find excuses by hook and crook not to pay these desperate illegal immigrants.
We would want to see the law being applied with equal force in prosecuting the illegal immigrant as well as the delinquent employer.
It is not as if South Africa is a paradise for migrant workers.
Working conditions for those doing manual tasks on the farms and construction sites are tough with long working hours and very little pay.
Domestic workers in South Africa earn a minimum wage of about R1 400 a month, a pittance given the enormous tasks they have to accomplish every day.
Those at construction sites earn as little as US$1.50 an hour, while others earn US$5 a week, according to the National Union of Mineworkers.
The low pay triggered a spate of strikes at World Cup construction sites last year.
Since last week’s deportations we have not heard any public comments by the government of Lesotho on the deportations.
In fact, the deportations have been met with deafening silence from the relevant government ministry.
Honourable Minister, we think you should say something.
We think time has arrived for the government of Lesotho to intervene and ensure that the rights of immigrants are protected.
The majority of Basotho who cross into South Africa do so out of sheer desperation to escape the frightening levels of poverty back home.
We would be very pleased if the government of South Africa would deal with these immigrants in a humane manner.

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa. 

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