US doctor and children granted entry into SA

Johannesburg - A doctor at the Mayo Clinic in the US and her three children were granted entry into South Africa after threats of being deported when she arrived without the necessary travel documents, Gift of the Givers said on Tuesday.

At around 18:00 on Monday, Marina Mookadam and her children were released from the detention centre at OR Tambo International Airport, Gift of the Givers founder, Imtiaz Sooliman, said in a statement.

"Late yesterday afternoon an official from Home Affairs, who was very considerate and efficient, assured us that she was referring the matter to very senior officials.

"At 17:38 this very kind individual got back to us to say she was awaiting feedback and soon after at 17:58 she got back to say the family had been released," Sooliman said.

Mookadam’s husband was travelling from the UK with her and their three children, aged 10, 14, and 15, when he was called to treat a patient from the royal family of a state in the Middle East.

The husband is a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, in Arizona. They were on their way to visit family in South Africa.

The family contacted Sooliman for help after immigration officials stopped Mookadam and the children from entering South Africa on Monday. Mookadam did not have the children's unabridged birth certificates and an affidavit from the absent parent, as South Africa’s new travel laws require.

‘Sympathised’

At the time, Home affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete said they sympathised, but could not bend the rules.

Sooliman on Tuesday said Mookadam's South African family were not permitted to see her when she was detained at the airport, neither was she told which flight she would being deported on.

He said the general attitude and body language of the officials was 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 specialised arbitration units at the various ports of entry to deal with individual cases on their merits," Sooliman said.

These units could be headed by highly qualified personnel who would have authority to make informed decisions in the absence of correct documentation.

He also said guarantees could be established through various mechanisms as a safeguard within the new law.

Access to families

"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."

Sooliman thanked the Home Affairs official Gift of the Givers spoke to and those in the department who intervened to help the family, saying the officials did not break the law but applied it rationally and humanely.

"This physician was not absconding with her three children; her husband will be arriving in South Africa soon."