Concern at high number of South Africans detained abroad

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Government has expressed concern at the growing number of South Africans detained abroad.

In a statement, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said over 800 South Africans are currently in prisons across the world for visa-related violations, drug-related charges, as well as various other offences.

“As we approach the festive season, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has expressed serious concern about South Africans being arrested or detained across the world as a result of these offences,” said the department on Wednesday.

Of the over 800 South Africans detained abroad, around 21% of them are in South America detained for drug-related charges.

Meanwhile, over 98 South Africans were detained in China for visa-related violations during the past six months.

“At this stage 23 of them remain in detention in China, while police investigations are continuing,” said the department.

Earlier in the year, more than 100 young South Africans, who travelled to teach English in China, were detained, cautioned or questioned regarding visa violations.

Regarding the recent case of Tristan-Lee Niemand, the department has been informed that she entered China on a short-stay study visa.

She was arrested on 16 November on suspicion of working illegally in China, teaching English. The investigation by the Chinese Public Security Bureau into her case is still continuing.

Chinese regulations in force in the Jiangsu province determine that no consular visits or telephone calls are allowed to detainees while the matter is still under investigation. However, the department is in regular contact with her mother and will keep the family informed of any developments.

“Unfortunately, consular assistance does not mean that Dirco can get South African citizens out of detention and neither can the department intervene in the judicial process in China,” it said.

Sisulu has called on traveling South Africans to register with the department or with the South African diplomatic missions abroad and ensure that they have the right traveling documents.

“It is very disconcerting that many South Africans are being arrested or detained abroad. We call on South Africans to make sure that they have the right traveling documents and correct visas where applicable. They should also know the location and contact details of the South African embassies, high commissions and consulates in the countries they are visiting,” she said.

The Minister said she has tasked the department’s Director-General, Kgabo Mahoai, to ensure that all South Africans who are arrested across the world receive consular assistance and that Dirco’s Consular Services Division, as well as South Africa’s diplomatic missions abroad make every effort to keep in touch with affected South Africans and their families.

The Minister said she will engage her Chinese counterpart on the number of young South Africans being arrested and detained in China.

“Young people who seek to teach in China must make sure that they consult the Chinese Embassy and verify the agents who are arranging their travel. The responsibility to ensure they have the correct visa for working abroad still rests with the individual.”

Sisulu urged all traveling South Africans to know the department’s 24-hour switchboard number — 012 351 1000 — in case they need any assistance.