Pretoria - The alleged conduct of a Home Affairs official believed to have changed the version of a Nigerian citizen in his application for refugee status has been referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for investigation and possible prosecution.
The Johannesburg High Court last month ordered that the NPA must establish whether the official lied about the facts which were given to him by the Nigerian citizen, only identified as EL to safeguard him from possible persecution.
EL told the court through his lawyers, and he maintained throughout, that he had fled Nigeria and come to South Africa as he feared political persecution in his country.
This version was allegedly changed by an officer at the refugee centre, who is said to have written on the application form that EL said he actually came to seek greener pastures in South Africa where he wanted to follow his dream by opening a barber shop.
EL was detained at Lindela Repatriation Centre as the department found he was illegally in the country. He was due to be deported back to Nigeria. He, however, turned to the court to be released from Lindela in a bid to apply for asylum status himself.
He said he left his country under circumstances where his life was at risk.
He was a former member of the now terror-fomenting Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, known as Mend.
He subsequently went underground here, but became worried about not having documents to legalise his stay.
He said he tried on several occasions to obtain documents from the refugee office, but he was sent home without anyone assisting him. He was subsequently arrested and detained at Lindela Repatriation camp, awaiting deportation.
Home Affairs told the court that EL’s reasons for wanting to come to South Africa were not true and that the refugee office did consider his reasons, which was contained in a report.
According to Home Affairs he told them he had left Nigeria because he wanted to travel the world and that he wanted to open his own barber shop here.
The officer wrote in the report that EL claimed not to be involved in politics and that nothing would happen to him if he returned to Nigeria, but he simply preferred to stay here.
Thus, Home Affairs concluded, there was no reason to grant his asylum status.
It emerged that EL was taken from Lindela after his arrest to a refugee office to apply for asylum.
EL said that on the way, the immigration officer told him that his transportation to Pretoria was merely a formality as his asylum application would be rejected on the spot.
When he arrived in Pretoria he was told by the officer that he was a trouble maker and that Nigerian citizens were well known for selling drugs, and under no circumstances would he be released. He claimed that while he told them his life was in danger, the facts were changed on his application.
Judge Margie Victor, however, frowned upon the department’s version and questioned why EL would change his story while he knew it would see him being deported.
The judge said “it is reprehensible'' if the officer did indeed change the applicant’s version and that the NPA must investigate this.
She declared his incarceration at Lindela as unlawful and issued his immediate release. The department must issue him with a temporary asylum seeker permit pending a proper investigation into his situation.