South African police and immigration officers from the Department of Home Affairs have launched a joint operation in the coastal city of Cape Town to flush out thousands of undocumented immigrants but only those from Africa are being targeted for deportations.
The operation, which began last week, has seen popular city streets, which are popular with foreigners deserted. On Friday last week, police and immigration officers laid an ambush for foreigners at the Cape Town train station.
More than 100 immigrants whose citizen and work status could not be verified by immigration officers were arrested and bundled onto waiting trucks. Those arrested included Zimbabweans whose work and refugee permits had expired.
At the Cape Town taxi rank, the operation netted scores of unsuspecting immigrants.Others were arrested during a stop and search operation at the weekend.Police also launched raids on residential areas in Woodstock, one of Cape Town's oldest and overcrowded areas.
Cape Town has been the favourite destination for African immigrants over the past five years partly because of its friendly environment.Police hardly conduct antiimmigrant operations in the city and this has seen an influx of thousands of migrants from Africa seeking greener pastures in the Rainbow nation.
Home Affairs did not respond to questions sent to the department about the anti-immigrant operation in Cape Town.Police however said the operation was just routine.
"I have no problem South Africa arresting illegal immigrants but what worries me is that such operations always target blacks and immigrants from Africa yet there are thousands of immigrants from other continents who live in the country illegally," said Themba Moyo, a Zimbabwean who was arrested but released after relatives produced his permit.
Another Zimbabwean Trust Chipesani was also arrested for breaching the terms of his permit. Chipesani took the department to court last week and police were ordered to release him because he had a work permit.
Home Affairs however argued that Chipesani had applied for a permit to work as a domestic but later found a job at a petrol station which was a violation of his permit. Hardliners in the government are pressuring Home Affairs to punish employers who hire undocumented foreigners.
The census figures released by Stats SA revealed that in 2011 there were 1.7 Million foreigners living in the country. But others question the reliability of those figures arguing that thousands of undocumented immigrants avoid being counted for fear of exposing themselves to arrest.