37 days at Airport “jail”

Cape Town – After a Chinese woman was detained at Cape Town International Airport for 37 days, the Western Cape High Court has ordered Home Affairs to allow her back into the country.

Meizhu Chen, 36, a shop manager in Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape, and her husband Tongxiang Gao returned to South Africa on October 5 after attending a funeral in China, but while he was allowed to enter the country she was interviewed by an immigration official and denied entry.

Attorney Craig Smith said Chen was kept in an airline transit lounge – “essentially a small room” – while visits by her husband were forbidden.

According to court papers, the official’s investigation diary entry showed that Chen, who speaks very little English, had been “profiled” on suspicion the work permit in her passport had been tampered with, making the permit invalid. She was taken to the transit lounge – a room “with the barest facilities”, according to her affidavit – on the same day.

On October 7, her attorneys launched an urgent application to stop her being sent back to China and to have the decision to refuse her entry reviewed.

On November 4, the Western Cape High Court ordered the director-general and minister of home affairs to permit her to enter and remain in South Africa, subject to reasonable terms and conditions and pending the final determination of the application to review the decision to refuse her entry.

Home Affairs has applied for leave to appeal the court’s decision.

Smith said that a week later the terms and conditions had not been determined and Chen had still not been allowed into the country.

On Monday, Home Affairs was ordered to comply with the court order and directed to pay the costs of the application.

Chen was allowed through immigration into the country that night and has to report to Home Affairs’ offices every day.

“I’m very happy,” she said on Tuesday, speaking through an interpreter.

“I had a valid permit and I didn’t want to go because my husband is still here.”

Chen told the Cape Argus that officials had not allowed her to look through the window in the small room, which was guarded day and night.

Smith said Chen had received a R90-a-day allowance for food and drink – R30 for each meal – and with this money fast food, including burgers and fried chicken, was bought for her at the airport.

In court papers the Home Affairs official said there had been a discrepancy between the passport number on the work permit and the number that appears in Chen’s passport.

Issues about her employment were also raised, while Chen was accused of trying to bribe the immigration officer.

But in Chen’s affidavit she claimed there had been a series of misunderstandings.

She said she had pulled out her wallet, but that was to show the official she didn’t have the fare to go back home.

Chen said no interpreter had been present, although there was one on the phone.

Smith said: “Home Affairs will consider a precedent having been set now where there would be a greater sense of duty as to how they admit foreigners and how they deal with foreigners at the airport. You need to be objective and apply the law to every passenger.

“It’s not just about her. It’s about the bigger picture. The arbitrary conduct of officials at Home Affairs has such serious legal consequences for foreigners.”

Source: http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/my-37-day-airport-hell-1.1778812#.VGMqR_mUdGM

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