PRESS STATEMENT | New report documenting experiences of immigration detention in South Africa

Date: 11/12/2023

Today, Lawyers for Human Rights launched a report on the Status of Immigration Detention in South Africa.

The practice of immigration detention in South Africa has persisted for decades, necessitating a critical examination of its necessity and proportionality. This report delves into recent trends in immigration detention in South Africa, shedding light on its impact on migrants and their interactions with various entities, including the SAPS, the DHA, legal professionals, and government officials.

This report draws on interviews with migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees and LHR’s Immigration Detention Hotline between March and October 2023. In addition, this report offers a comprehensive analysis with insights from legal practitioners nationwide who have represented individuals under the Immigration Act.

Despite the legal protections theoretically afforded to migrants in South Africa concerning immigration detention, a stark disparity exists between these protections and the harsh reality faced by migrants within the country. Challenges such as lack of access to documentation, corruption, irregular law implementation, homophobia and xenophobia render migrants – predominantly black African migrants – susceptible to arbitrary arrest and detention based on their documentation status.

Numerous arrests, as documented by LHR, are deemed unlawful and indicative of an abuse of power by state officials. Concrete examples underscore the urgent need for reform in the enforcement of immigration laws.

This report shows that the immigration detention system has cultivated a climate of fear within migrant communities in South Africa. Migrants, already enduring challenging experiences before arriving in the country, find themselves traumatised by a system that fosters a sense of powerlessness and dehumanization. For most migrants, the reality is that the immigration detention system is wielded as a discriminatory and xenophobic tool for officials to exert power over them and extract money from them, regardless of their documentation status.

This report emphasises the urgent need for reform in the South African immigration detention system. The gap between legal protections on paper and the reality experienced by migrants demands immediate attention to rectify systemic issues, safeguard human rights, and ensure a fair and just immigration process

We would like to thank all persons who have contributed towards this report. Further, we would like to thank Porticus for their generous support

For further information, contact:

Nabeelah Mia, Head of Penal Reform Programme


Sharon Ekambaram, Head of Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme


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