US doctor, kids allowed in after detention at OR Tambo under SA’s new immigration rules

30 June 2015 - 15:46 By RDM News Wire

A physician from the world-famous Mayo Clinic in America and her three children were detained on arrival at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport yesterday – a direct consequence of officials trying to enforce the new immigration rules. The family were only released to continue their holiday after the intervention of humanitarian group Gift of the Givers‚ who highlighted their plight and took up their cause with Home Affairs.The doctor‚ Martina Mookadam‚ and her three children were released after several hours in custody from the detention centre at OR Tambo International Airport around 6pm yesterday and were united with their family at around 7pm‚ Gift of the Givers said in a statement.Her “crime”?Gift of the Givers explains: “An American tourist arrives with her three minor children to South Africa and is requested to produce documentation from the husband. He is a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. He accompanied his family to the UK and was travelling to South Africa with them when he got called back urgently to treat a patient from the royal family of one of the Middle Eastern states. Who at that point will remember unabridged certificates and a police affidavit‚ especially when the children travel extensively throughout the world with one parent with no such complications anywhere else?“The wife‚ Martina Mookadam‚ is also a physician at the Mayo Clinic‚ but now she and her three children aged 10‚ 14 and 15 are in a detention centre at OR Tambo to be deported on a flight at 7.20 pm. This action virtually gives them ‘criminal’ status.“Martina … offered to get a stamped letter signed by her husband … It was flatly refused.”Commenting on the treatment of the tourists‚ who had travelled for 48 hours only to receive hostile treatment at a SA airport‚ Gift of the Givers commented: “Great way to treat children. Great PR for South Africa's tourism industry when a physician and her cardiologist husband at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona discuss the welcome you can expect at a South African airport. Their patients would be high-profile‚ potential future tourists to South Africa‚ people whose spending power can make a meaningful contribution to our economy”.Gift of the Givers said while it understood Home Affairs and the South African government had a “noble” purpose in wanting to prevent child trafficking‚ disappearance of children with one of the spouses and similar kinds of contraventions.However‚ it noted‚ “This need to prevent such contraventions of law has to be balanced by decent conduct towards those who may not have the correct documentation for whatever reason. The South African family of the American physician was not permitted to see her‚ no rational explanation was entertained by Home Affairs officials‚ she was not told which flight she was being deported on and the general attitude and body language of officials was just negative. These are totally unacceptable procedures and ‘criminalises’ ordinary individuals - be they a physician from Mayo Clinic in America or a street vendor from Chad”.Home Affairs should consider establishing specialized arbitration units at the various ports of entry to deal with individual cases on their merits‚ Gift of the Givers proposed.“Very highly qualified Home Affairs personnel could head these units and must have the authority to make informed decisions in the absence of correct documentation. Secondary guarantees could be established through various mechanisms as a safeguard within the new law. People should be given access to their families‚ local SIM cards or the use of the telephone‚ and family members should be kept abreast of all developments.“We are not dealing with criminals in every instant and therefore‚ our approach should always be very human and we could still apply the law so that even when people are deported at least they have the experience that they were dealt with humanely and decently.“This physician was not absconding with her three children; her husband will be arriving in South Africa soon.”..

There’s never been a more important time to support independent media.

From World War 1 to present-day cosmopolitan South Africa and beyond, the Sunday Times has been a pillar in covering the stories that matter to you.

For just R80 you can become a premium member (digital access) and support a publication that has played an important political and social role in South Africa for over a century of Sundays. You can cancel anytime.

Already subscribed? Sign in below.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.