All 443 children intercepted at SA-Zim border in December ‘have been reunited with their parents’

All 443 children intercepted at SA-Zim border in December ‘have been reunited with their parents’

By Lerato Mutsila I Daily Maverick

SOUTH AFRICA: The unaccompanied minors travelling to South Africa from Zimbabwe whose buses were stopped by the Border Management Authority (BMA) in December have been reunited with their parents, BMA Commissioner Mike Masiapato said on Sunday, 28 January 2024.

The BMA, South Africa’s armed service tasked with managing ports of entry, held a press briefing in Hatfield, Pretoria, on Sunday to outline the outcomes of its festive season operations.

Masiapato said the authority was working hand in hand with the Zimbabwean government, as well that nation’s bus companies, to ensure that unaccompanied minors are transported into South Africa in accordance with the law.

This comes after a joint sting operation by BMA guards, the Home Affairs anti-corruption unit and the South African Police Service intercepted 42 buses attempting to carry 443 unaccompanied minors, all under the age of eight, across the Beitbridge Border Post on 2 December 2023.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA Border Management Authority joint sting operation intercepts buses at Beitbridge carrying 443 children

At the time, authorities suspected that the children were being transported as part of a human trafficking operation. However, the Zimbabwean government denied that the children were being trafficked.

GroundUp reported that the children were entering the country to be with their parents over the December holidays.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Border Management Authority’s claims of ‘human trafficking’ of children across Beitbridge border appear unfounded

Masiapato revealed that the children had been safely returned to their families, and the issue was now in the hands of the Zimbabwean authorities, who were responsible for “handling the culprits”.

Masiapato said that the incident had “unnecessarily escalated into a political issue”, adding that while the BMA’s work was highly politically charged, the authority aimed to stay out of the political fray when conducting its operations.

“In terms of our principle, as we said before, we are not going to be allowing minors without requisite documentation to enter the republic or even exiting the republic. This is provided for in law. If we actually don’t do that, work according to that prescript, it is us that will be arrested,” he said.

Regarding the legal requirements for minors travelling to South Africa, the commissioner explained: “The law is clear in the regulation on what the requirements are. The passport of the person receiving the child on this side. The address of the person receiving the child. A letter demonstrating that a person is allowed to travel with this child. All these things [are required].”

Masiapato said the BMA would continue to follow the letter of the law regarding the transportation of children across the country’s borders.

“After the incident of the 2nd and 3rd of December, we did convene with the Zimbabwean authorities, and the intention was to ensure that they start doing their part as far as this is concerned. We also want them to start helping us ensure that people are not actually allowed to do what they did with the children from the Zimbabwean side.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Buses, Beitbridge and border control — examining the Border Management Authority’s recent ‘trafficking success’

In response to a question from Daily Maverick during the media briefing, Masiapato said the BMA had not encountered any other similar incidents during the festive season operation.

Busy festive season

The BMA is tasked with facilitating and managing the legitimate movement of people and goods across South Africa’s 71 land, sea and air ports.

In its report back on Sunday, the BMA said that while it had anticipated about six million travellers entering South Africa over the festive period, it successfully facilitated the legitimate movement of more than five million travellers through the nation’s ports between 3 December 2023 and 18 January 2024, an increase of one million over the previous year.

Masiapato said that while the BMA’s primary job was to facilitate the legitimate movement of people, it was also confronted with dealing with those who tried to enter the country illegally.

“As such, in this festive period, we were able to detect about 15,924 individuals who were attempting to enter into South Africa without requisite documentation through our ports and the vulnerable segments of the borderline,” Masiapato said. “In this instance, after intercepting them, we took their fingerprints, declared them undesirable and banned them from re-entering South Africa for a period of five years and keep the record in the Biometric Movement Control System and got them deported.”

Most illegal travellers were intercepted at and around the Lebombo land port (6,808) in Mpumalanga, followed by Beitbridge (1,891).

The total number of people barred from entering the country during the festive season came to 27,005, which included 6,455 travellers who were barred for being “undesirable” – for committing crimes in other countries and appearing on Interpol’s red list – and 4,626 travellers who were refused entry for being inadmissible for reasons such as invalid passports, fraudulent visas or failure to provide a valid yellow fever certificate where required.

The BMA is now preparing for the expected rush of travellers through South Africa’s ports over the Easter holiday.