THE Gauteng High Court in South Africa on Thursday ruled that detaining illegal immigrants at Lindela Repatriation Centre for extended periods of time is unlawful and unconstitutional.
The landmark ruling has been hailed by human rights organisations in South Africa that have often criticised the detention centre which is notorious for its vicious treatment of illegal immigrants.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP) and 39 individuals who were detained at Lindela had taken the government to court over the treatment of immigrants.
The SAHRC and the other applicants argued that the detention centre's treatment of illegal immigrants was unconstitutional and a violation of the Immigration Act.
High Court judge, Justice Tsoka, agreed with their submissions and ruled the detention of immigrants unlawful.
SAHRC spokesman, Isaac Mangena, said they argued that the detention of immigrants was in contravention of the Immigration Act of 2002 and was unconstitutional.
"Lindela is the only facility of its kind in South Africa where illegal migrants are detained while awaiting deportation," he said.
"The individuals in this matter had been subject to inhumane treatment, including being detained for longer than 30 days without the necessary warrant of a magistrate permitting extended detention."
He also queried the failure by the Lindela officials to follow fair procedures as they also kept the detainees in detention for longer than 120 days.
The High Court ordered the Lindela authorities to immediately comply with the Immigration Act.
"Although the individuals in detention had been released prior to the current matter being heard in court, the SAHRC was concerned about the longstanding history of violations of the Immigration Act and detainees' constitutional rights at Lindela, dating back to at least February 2000," Mangena said.
He said the institution had often rejected repeated requests to issue reports on the facility despite the fact that the SAHRC is statutorily authorised to make such requests.
The court also ordered Lindela authorities to allow the SAHRC access to the facility on a regular basis and that reports on the number and status of detainees at the institution be issued.
The High Court also ruled that no person should be detained for more than 30 days.
Mangena added: "The SAHRC sees this as a victory for migrants in South Africa.
"This re-affirms our commitment to protecting the rights of vulnerable members of our communities, including those coming from outside, and serves as a stern warning to the Department of Home Affairs to consistently comply with the rights of detainees."
The judgment comes after the South African Lawyers for Human Rights issued a statement criticising the detention of illegal immigrants beyond the specified periods.
The lawyers said immigrants were being detained for more than 120 days and were not being given a chance to appear before a magistrate.
"Lawyers for Human Rights is challenging the constitutionality of the procedures and safeguards governing the detention of people suspected of being illegal foreigners under the Immigration Act and the new Immigration Regulations at the Lindela Repatriation Centre," the group said.
Meanwhile, South Africa's Home Affairs Department on Friday said they were still studying the judgment before making any official comment.
"The department has noted and is studying the judgment," spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete said in a statement.