South Africa mistakenly deports Congolese man - to Turkey

By Estelle ELLIS

A Congolese refugee living in South Africa (SA) was mistakenly deported to Turkey by immigration officials and left to languish there, without papers or money.

Cape Town

The department of home affairs of SA admitted to Cape Town resident Jean Pierre Vila's lawyers that they had made a mistake, but would not pay for the man to come back home.

Eventually Turkish Airlines flew Vila back, five days after he had been deported, but only after making him sign an acknowledgement of debt.

SA Home affairs has not commented on the incident yet or offered to pay for the air fare.

Vila has legal refugee status in South Africa. He is originally from Congo and his wife is Ukrainian.

A few months ago, Vila went to the Ukraine. While he was there his refugee status was about to expire and he asked his wife, who was in South Africa, to renew his documents.

She went to Refugee Affairs, had their status renewed and faxed him the renewed document.

Last Wednesday Vila returned to South Africa but upon arrival at Cape Town International Airport an immigration official, Mark William, refused him entry into South Africa.

William claimed that Vila's status document was fraudulent and confiscated the document, before mysteriously sending Vila to Turkey with Turkish Airlines.

In desperation his wife went to the Legal Resources Centre for help.

Attorney William Kerfoot contacted home affairs in Pretoria, who said they would investigate.

SA Home affairs later admitted to Kerfoot that there had been a mistake and that Vila could return to South Africa, giving instructions that Vila be placed on a flight.

Turkish Airlines were happy to help, but they wanted to know who was going to pay the R10 500 for the ticket. And from Wednesday to Sunday, Vila was stuck in Istanbul as lawyers tried to sort out who would pay for him to come back.

Home affairs said they could not pay until an internal investigation had been done to determine if there was any misconduct on the part of the department.

After he spent five days at Istanbul airport, Turkish Airlines eventually brought Vila back on Monday - but first made him sign an acknowledgment of debt.

Special arrangements for his entry into the country had to be made as immigration officials had confiscated his papers.

Neither he nor his wife would comment on the matter.

Attorneys said they feared retribution from the department of home affairs.