Immigration officers could be personally liable

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Maria Amakali

Windhoek-Immigration officers that were involved in the arrest and detention of 47 suspected illegal immigrants are at risk of being held accountable in their own personal capacity by the courts.

Judge Shafimana Ueitele on Wednesday gave a directive to the immigration officers who were involved in the arrests of the immigrants to provide valid reasons why they should not be held personally liable.

If held liable they would potentially have to cover the legal costs of the Ombudsman for the unlawful detention of the 47 immigrants.

The issue arose when state attorney Sylvia Kahengombe informed the court there were some irregularities that consequently resulted in the unlawful detention of the 47 immigrants.

She further informed Judge Ueitele of the Immigration’s concession and undertaking to release the immigrants.

An urgent application filed on Wednesday by the office of the Ombudsman questioned nine (9) parties on the legalities concerning the unlawful detention of the 47 immigrants, two of who claimed to be 17 years of age.

The nine parties include the station commanders of the police stations in Windhoek, Katutura, Wanaheda and Seeis, the minister of home affairs and immigration, the chief of immigration, the Immigration Tribunal, the minister of safety and security and the inspector general of the Namibian Police.

Ombudsman John Walters, who is suing all 9 parties involved, stated that based on investigations, officials had detained only one out of 47 alleged illegal immigrants incarcerated at the four police stations on the basis of correct paperwork.

They never issued any warrants of arrests, and investigators also found that the 14-day period provided for by warrants for their detention had lapsed while officials had not issued any new warrants of detention while they failed to sign other warrants of arrests.

The alleged immigrants were mostly from Angola, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya who were simply looking for better economic and social opportunities, Walters said.

In his affidavit, Walters explained that the immigration officials unlawfully detained the immigrants and had no regard for the constitutional rights of the detainees, while they appeared to act as though they were a law unto themselves.

The Immigration Control Act stipulates that an immigration officer may only arrest a suspected illegal immigrant, and have the person detained for a period not exceeding 14 days, while investigating the lawfulness of the person’s presence in Namibia.

The immigrations officers failed to conduct statutory investigations that would enable them to decide whether or not a person was in fact an illegal immigrant.

The arrests and detentions were in disregard of their rights to liberty as protected in Article 77 off the constitution.

Judge Ueitele ordered the release of the immigrants until officials dealt with them in terms of the provisions of the Immigration Control Act.

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