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Justice & correctional services minister Ronald Lamola. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/SANDILE NDLOVU
Justice & correctional services minister Ronald Lamola. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/SANDILE NDLOVU

Almost 18,000 illegal foreign nationals have been held incarcerated in the country’s correctional facilities in the past five years. Of these, about 52% were sentenced by November 2021. 

Justice & correctional services minister Ronald Lamola gave the figures in a written parliamentary response after DA MP Désirée van der Walt had inquired about the number of illegal foreign nationals held between 2017 and 2021.

In an annual breakdown, Lamola said 17,994 had been incarcerated since 2017:

  • In 2017, 2,995 people were arrested, with 1,670 sentenced;
  • In 2018, 3,746 people were arrested, with 2,137 sentenced;
  • In 2019, 4,473 were incarcerated and 2,219 sentenced; 
  • In 2020, 3,257 were incarcerated and 1,550 sentenced, and
  • Between January and November 2021, 3,523 were incarcerated and 1,743 sentenced.

According to the provincial breakdown, Gauteng has the highest number of unsentenced nationals in detention (602), followed by the Free State (444) and Limpopo (341). 

Van der Walt had also inquired about what happens to the illegal foreign nationals when they are eligible for parole and after they had served their sentences. Lamola said this was the responsibility of home affairs.

“The department of correctional services is responsible for identifying foreign nationals in its detention facilities and reporting such individuals to the department of home affairs,” he said.

“The department of home affairs is responsible for establishing the nationality of such offenders and initiating the deportation of those whose stay in the RSA is illegal or undesirable. It is the responsibility of the department of correctional services to hand over such offenders to the relevant authorities either for release or deportation based on status confirmed by [home affairs].” 

In cases where the foreign national offender is found to be suitable for parole placement, Lamola said according to the conditions set for all sentenced foreign nationals to be deported, offenders:

  • Should not return to SA before the expiry of the parole period;
  • May not commit crime while on parole;
  • Must seek authorisation from home affairs to return to the country after expiry of the parole period; and
  • Their personal details must be circulated to all SA borders, the SA Police Service and criminal record centres until the expiry of the parole period.

“The circulation of personal details to SA borders, the SAPS and criminal records centres will assist in tracking the deported foreign nationals should he/she reoffend and get rearrested,” he said.

“The offender will be handed over to the department of home affairs, who must sign for receipt of the parolee for detention at a repatriation centre, pending deportation to their country of origin.”



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