After five trips from Cape Town to Pretoria, Malawian immigrant still has no papers

Charles Mkwapatira has spent a month in prison, and R15,000 - all for nothing

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Photo of Charles Mkwapatira
Charles Mkwapatira says he has spent about R15,000 on transport and accommodation on five trips to Pretoria to renew his asylum papers. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

Malawian asylum seeker Charles Mkwapatira has made five trips from Cape Town to Pretoria to get a permit – all to no avail.

Mkwapatira was arrested in December 2015 with Patrick Makwinja in Witsand near Heidelberg and spent over a month in prison.

Investigator Nomvuyo Tempi said there was no evidence of him ever having entered the country legally. “The departmental movement control system, which captures all the movements of persons using travelling document while departing or arriving at a port entry into the Republic, was scrutinised and the following were discovered.”

“There are no records of the said foreign national entering or departing from the Republic. Therefore he contravened Section 49(1) of the Immigration Act. He is illegal in the Republic.”

Mkwapatria explained to the prosecutor that he had applied for asylum in 2011 and it was rejected. In response to allegations that he had entered the country illegally, he said he had entered with his passport, but it had since been stolen.

He was released on bail and told to go back to Malawi and get a new passport and report back to the police station in George before his trial. Mkwapatira went to Malawi and waited three weeks for a new passport.

In January on his return, he went straight to Marabastad in Pretoria to apply for asylum. He spent three weeks there, reporting to Home Affairs every Monday and Tuesday, the only days Malawians can get assistance. Finally, his employer in Heidelberg made several calls to Home Affairs and he was given a permit for one month and told to return for an interview.

In March he returned to Marabastad to be interviewed by an official who told him that it would take another month for the outcome of his interview to be finalised. He was given a month’s permit and an appointment to return.

In April, Mkwapatira returned to Marabastad, and was told that the official had not come to work that day and that his office was locked with Mkwapatira’s file inside. Only after his employer again phoned and begged for help, did an official arrange another month’s permit, and a new appointment.

In May, when Mkwapatira returned to Marabastad, he was again told that the official had not come to work that day and his office was locked with the file in it. He was given 30 days extension and told to return the following month for an appointment.

In June, he repeated this expensive exercise, only to be met with exactly the same story and the same outcome.

On his return in July, he was told the same story. But this time when he pleaded with another official, he was given a three month asylum permit, with an appointment to return for the decision in October.

He is one of the victims of the decision by the Department of Home Affairs to refuse to extend asylum seekers’ documents in Cape Town.

On 1 October, he went back for the fifth time.

“I arrived at the reception centre around 5am. I placed my papers in the bucket and waited until 5pm. The documents were returned without being extended. The security officers called our names from inside the fence and passed our documents through the fence.”

“Some people lost their papers. I queried why my asylum paper was not renewed and he said I should come back the following day, even though I had spent the whole day hungry and standing in the sun. I also wasted money on transport.”

“I returned the following day and repeated the same process. After 5pm the paper was returned without being renewed again. The security officer had bunches of papers to distribute to thousands of asylum seekers. He did not have time to answer our questions.”

Mkwapatira had to return without documents.

Meanwhile, he is still facing charges of being in the country illegally. His employer, Jo Attenborough, says this is due to a mistake made by the Department of Home Affairs.

“I believe Mkwapatira was wrongfully accused and incarcerated in jail because of negligence by Home Affairs officials in George.”

She said the reason Home Affairs could not find him on the system was that his name had been spelled wrongly.

“He is awaiting trial for a crime he didn’t commit, and he is currently illegally in the country because the Mabarastad Home Affairs is in a complete mess. They cannot process their applicants and are simply turning people away.”

In response to a request for comment sent to Home Affairs on 20 October, media officer Thabo Mokgola said on 26 October that the department was investigating the case.

TOPICS:  Home Affairs Immigration

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