The South African government says it plans to create an inter-ministerial team to improve conditions at the notorious Lindela Repatriation Centre for illegal migrants.
Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula made the announcement as the government received the report from a commission of enquiry set up to probe the deaths of 28 detainees at the centre earlier this year.
The major finding of the enquiry was that most of the deaths could have been avoided if proper medical care had been provided to the inmates.
In total, 53 fatalities were recorded between January and August - 43 people died soon after being admitted to the nearby Leratong Hospital and nine at the holding centre itself.
The findings, which minister Mapisa-Nqakula described as "an indictment on our own work as a department", included revelations that most of the deaths were caused by meningitis and other natural causes, rather than poisoning as has been frequently alleged by inmates.
It revealed that the center had only two doctors and one resident nurse to look after the 6,000 to 6,500 inmates packed into Lindela each month, mostly from neighbouring Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The commission found that medical staff were too poorly trained to handle health complications that frequently arose as a result of overcrowding.
According to the report, cells designed for 30 people were often crammed with 50 detainees for long periods of time.
"We are particularly alarmed by the lack of adequate medical services. To this end we will now ensure that a separate health services provider, which is not part of the company already contracted to run Lindela, is hired," Mapisa-Nqakula told IRIN.
She said an inter-ministerial committee of officials from the departments of home affairs, foreign affairs, health and safety, and security would oversee implementation of the commission's recommendations.
"Our intention is to have an environment where management of migration is legal and within the international culture of human rights," Mapisa-Nqakula noted.
However, Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), a pressure group, has criticised the government's proposals for failing to tackle the key issues of wrongful detention and repatriation.
"Many people with legal papers lose their papers to the police, who are only interested in arresting them. Some end up being deported, others fall sick and die in a place they should never have been in the first place," said ZEF chairman Gabriel Shumba.
"The government should arrange for a proper detainee reception to avoid overcrowding the place with undeserving cases who are wrongfully or deliberately arrested by the police," he told IRIN.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
Help us be the transformation we’d like to see in the news industry
The current journalistic model is broken: Audiences are demanding that the hierarchical, elite-led system of news-gathering and presentation be dismantled in favour of a more inclusive and holistic model based on more equitable access to information and more nuanced and diverse narratives.
The business model is also broken, with many media going bankrupt during the pandemic – despite their information being more valuable than ever – because of a dependence on advertisers.
Finally, exploitative and extractive practices have long been commonplace in media and other businesses.
We think there is a better way. We want to build something different.
Our new five-year strategy outlines how we will do so. It is an ambitious vision to become a transformative newsroom – and one that we need your support to achieve.
Become a member of The New Humanitarian by making a regular contribution to our work - and help us deliver on our new strategy.