On Friday, the Department of Home Affairs said it had started the process of deporting 20 foreign nationals who were among hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees who staged protests over their plight in Cape Town late last year.

Home Affairs said in a statement that the deportation follows a successful law enforcement operation undertaken by officials from the department’s Inspectorate officials, supported by police, the Cape Town council and the departments of social development and health.

It added that The 20 will be expelled from the country following due process over their status in the country which was confirmed in court earlier this week in terms of South Africa’s immigration laws and have already been transferred to the Lindela Repatriation Centre.

Twelve other foreign nationals are scheduled to reappear in court on Friday in a case in which they have rejected the option of integration into local communities and instead want the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate them to a third country, preferably Canada.

Late last year, hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers protested against the UNHCR in Cape Town, accusing the organisation of failing to help them get documents from the Home Affairs Department or secure resettlement in other countries and of not protecting them against xenophobic attacks targeted largely against foreign nationals from African countries.

Some South Africans accuse African foreigners of being in the country illegally, of committing crimes and “stealing” local jobs.

On Friday, Home Affairs said it was disturbed by violence in eThekwini Municipality earlier this week, where businesses belonging to foreign nationals were forcibly closed down.

“We wish to remind citizens that there are foreign nationals who are in the country legally and are allowed to conduct business in terms of the applicable laws of the country. As such, they should not be unfairly targeted simply on the basis of their nationality,” it said, adding that South Africa had immigration laws to deal with illegal foreigners.

“We urge all South Africans not to take the law into their own hands but to report any illegal person they encounter to law enforcement and Home Affairs immigration officials.”