An immigration officer has been arrested for allegedly facilitating the entry of five Bangladeshi nationals into South Africa without valid permits.
Home Affairs Minister made this revelation during a media briefing after a sting operation at the OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday (13 April).
“He is a key link in an elaborate and well-coordinated international syndicate that operates in South Africa and Bangladesh. At this airport, the network of the syndicates involves an immigration officer and other role-players such as a member of the ground handling staff, cleaners, security personnel as well as the law enforcement agencies,” Motsoaledi said.
“In Bangladesh, the syndicate includes a runner who recruits Bangladeshi who do not qualify to visit South Africa and members of the airline. All of these operations are coordinated by a kingpin. The kingpin gets the runner to recruit Bangladeshis who want to come to South Africa but do not qualify. He charges them around R110,000.”
According to the Minister, a member of the airline smuggles the alleged illegal immigrants into their flights. These immigrants receive pictures of airport landmarks before arrival. This means they know which immigration counter to go to, where a pre-identified immigration official processes them for entry without valid permits.
“Sometimes, these lawbreakers are wheeled in via those rubbish bins with wheels – in what is perhaps a metaphor for their status in the country,” Motsoaledi said.
“The immigration officer or runner is paid around R60,000 for each lawbreaker who is facilitated into the country. This amount is shared with other members of the network involved in the criminal act.”
Home Affairs, SAPS under pressure
The sting operation comes as the Department of Home Affairs and the South African Police Service (SAPS) are under pressure to rein in on illegal immigrants, who some locals believe are behind a spate of crime in communities such as Diepsloot in Gauteng.
Motsoaledi and Police Minister Bheki Cele held meetings with community members in Diepsloot last week after seven locals lost their lives, reportedly at the hands of suspected criminals.
A vigilante group in the area subsequently started targeting the homes of foreign nationals, reportedly in search of illegal immigrants. A Zimbabwean national, Elvis Nyathi, lost his life in the process.
Writing in his weekly letter to the nation earlier this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa however warned against vigilantism, insisting that immigration and law enforcement are the responsibility of government.
“Contrary to what is claimed by some anti-immigration groupings and individuals, the perpetrators of crime are both black and white, male and female, foreigner and citizen. Crime, not migrants, is the common enemy we must work together to defeat,” he wrote.