JOHANNESBURG – The South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Tuesday held a summit at the Constitution Hill to explore if South Africans were welcoming to refugees as stipulated in the White Paper.
South Africa’s asylum and refugee system is under pressure: in recent years, South Africa has become one of the top ten refugee-receiving countries, mostly from elsewhere in Africa. Quite unusually in the global south, it conducts individual refugee status determination, resulting in more than 90% refusals.
The system itself is slow, and inefficient. Worsening levels of xenophobic violence and other forms of intolerance towards foreign nationals has further aggravated the already desperate plight of these people.
SAIFAC argues that what is written in the 2017 White Paper on International Migration is not the reality that asylum seekers are experiencing. It promises better living and working systems – instead there is a notion of discrimination, segregation and “othering”.
The panel included an array of world-class experts in the field: Fatima Khan (Refugee Rights Unit, University of Cape Town); Ruvi Ziegler (University of Reading); Faith Munyati (Lawyers for Human Rights); Loren Landau (African Centre for Migration Studies, University of the Witwatersrand) and it will be chaired by Cristiano D’orsi (University of Johannesburg).
The first speaker DR. Fatima Khan, the Director of the Refugee Rights Unit, said: “They want us to view refugees as people we as South Africans should fear just because they do not have legal documents that permits them to be in the country.
“My argument is that for example in the Musina asylum office … out of the 20,000 people that applied, not even one of them were granted the asylum.
“The system is slow and unjust and once you are caught in SA without the legal document you get arrested. South Africans are not welcoming to foreign nationals. The government and the people are very hostile towards foreign nationals,” lamented DR. Khan, who is also an attorney of the high court in South Africa.
SAIFAC has a suggested solution on how South Africans as the host could have less pressure when it comes to dealing with foreign nationals that will be able to be self-reliant and that is through a new program the “Global Impact”.
“South Africa needs a financial helping hands globally so that that funding can be used in order to have proper health care systems, education opportunities and other important basic needs. “ DR. Khan added.
However, Prof. Loren Landau, the Director of the African Center for Migration and Society had a different view.
“I will speak from a social science point of view and not from a legal one and I will counter argue what DR Khan has said about South Africans not welcoming refugees that seek asylum,” said Landau.
“We are more welcoming than any other country in the world. The challenge is the socioeconomic issue that we are facing of unemployment and poverty.
“If you look at the stats refugees are doing way better than the South Africans, they have better jobs, health care system and they can afford the best houses.
“Yes the asylum system is not well structured and they are denied access to certain things and are harassed by the police if they are found without the legal documentation, however I think that maybe we are asking the wrong question if we ask if South Africans are welcoming or not.”. said Landau.
Minah Malakoane from the department of Home Affairs said: “We are facing a huge problem at the home affair. Our duties is to visit schools and hospitals in order to inform mothers that once they have given birth they need to come to home affairs with proper documents so that we can make birth certificates.
“I hear someone saying that at home affairs we are denying to give the mothers a birth certificate, that is not true. We can’t give a mother the birth certificate while they themselves their documents are not in good state and are fraudulent documents and when you ask them they say their husbands asked them to come to South African and give birth.”
The one-day summit, organised with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, agreed to lobby government on the matter and to consider implementing the “global impact”.