Airport 'prisoner' home free

19 November 2014 - 02:36 By Kathryn Kimberly
Cape Town International Airport. File photo.
Cape Town International Airport. File photo.
Image: Foto24/Lulama Zenzile/Gallo Images

A Chinese woman is finally on her way home to Stutterheim after spending 37 days in a tiny room at Cape Town International Airport.

Immigration lawyer Craig Smith filed a review application with the Cape Town High Court yesterday to have Meizhu Chen's interim entry back into South Africa made permanent.

For more than a month, Chen lived on airport food and slept on a single bed in a cold cell. She was also forced to answer questions without an interpreter.

Her ordeal came to a temporary halt on November 4 when she was granted interim entry back into South Africa.

Smith is asking the court to declare the conduct of the Home Affairs Department and its employees inconsistent with the constitution, and ultimately unlawful.

He confirmed that Chen and her husband, Tongxiang Gao, would return this week to the Eastern Cape, where the 36-year-old woman runs a spaza shop.

The couple visited China to attend the funeral of Gao's father but, on their return on October 5, Chen was detained by immigration officials, while her husband was permitted entry.

Her protests that she had a valid work visa were lost in translation and Chen was ultimately accused of trying to bribe her way out.

In court papers, she said: "Though I speak and understand few words of English, the contents of this affidavit will be read to me by a sworn translator."

She said the immigration officer "profiled me and pulled me out of the arrivals because she thought I was tampering with the permit in my passport".

"My English is very poor and [the officer] initially conducted an interview without a translator, which made me confused and nervous."

She said her inability to answer raised suspicion about her residential and work address.

"Having been refused entry I was detained in a cell."

Chen was eventually put in touch with Smith, and on November 4, acting Judge John Riley ordered Home Affairs to release her back into South Africa, pending a review application for the order to be made final.