News / Africa

    Migrants Suffer Under Weight of South Africa's Refugee System

    Darren Taylor
    “What we’ve seen in the past few years is the securitization of immigration in South Africa,” said Roni Amit, a senior researcher at the Center for African Migration and Society at Johannesburg’s Wits University.

    “There’s just this increased sense that we need to protect our borders and stop people from coming in. There’s this perception that there’s a flood of African migrants coming into the country and that we need to restrict that and keep them out and that they are a drain on the economy.”

    The U.N. Refugee Agency [UNHCR] says South Africa receives more applications for asylum than any other country in the world.

    The South African government’s unofficial attitude is that the country has enough problems of its own – including mass unemployment and poverty, frequent labor unrest and popular uprisings against the state’s failure to provide basic services – and cannot be expected to help shoulder the continent’s immense burden of migrants.

    So immigration controls have been tightened significantly in recent years.

    Economic migrants VS refugees

    Amit maintained that the number of foreigners, especially those of African origin, said to be overwhelming South Africa is “inflated.”
    “We did a study a few years ago and it found that there were four to five million foreigners in the country. That’s documented and undocumented,” she said.

    UNHCR statistics show that most asylum applications in South Africa are from citizens of African countries that have been torn by crises, such as Zimbabwe, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There’s also a steady stream of Angolans, Burundians, Ethiopians, Mozambicans and Rwandese, among others.

    The agency said about 480,000 foreigners are currently seeking asylum in South Africa.

    But the Department of Home Affairs [DHA] rejects most applications for refugee status on the basis that the applicants are merely looking for work in South Africa, not fleeing conflicts and political repression.

    “Unfortunately the Department of Home Affairs likes to say that most people [migrants], like 96 percent coming [into South Africa], are economic migrants. But there’s actually no basis for that number,” said Amit. “There are some economic migrants, but there are also people who have fled persecution or have fled civil war. But those people aren’t getting recognized in the asylum system.”

    No protection for refugees

    The researcher said the DHA had recently combined the immigration and asylum systems.

    “They should be two separate, parallel things,” Amit insisted. “Now they’ve merged and they are really using the asylum system as a method of immigration control. So there really is no effective refugee protection in the country anymore.”

    The UNHCR said as of December 2010 the DHA had recognized 58,000 people as refugees. According to immigration analysts, the number hasn’t increased significantly since then, with the vast majority of asylum claims being rejected and the DHA not providing documentation that would allow migrants to temporarily remain in South Africa.

    The DHA did not respond to repeated requests from VOA for comment but has previously denied that it’s purposefully withholding the necessary permits from foreigners seeking residence in South Africa.

    Amit, however, said growing numbers of migrants, unable to secure documents, are “going underground,” with grave consequences for them.

    “Then they’re at risk of arrest and detention and deportation and that’s really dangerous because then they’ll be deported back to the situation that they fled from, which was unsafe to begin with. There have been some stories of some Congolese who were sent back [to the DRC] and were detained and I think some were even killed.”

    Knowing they have little chance of getting official papers, Amit said, more migrants are now crossing South Africa’s borders illegally. This makes them vulnerable to criminal gangs who prey on them, robbing, raping and murdering them.

    Ignorance of the law

    Amit recently completed a study of official refusals of residence to migrants at refugee reception offices across South Africa.
    .
    “In terms of the decisions [made by immigration officials], they get the law completely wrong. They have no understanding of the legal requirements for asylum and refugee status. They’ll cut and paste something [from the internet] from a country where the law’s completely different and it’ll say the exact opposite of what South Africa’s refugee law says,” said Amit.

    Migrants often report that immigration officers demand that they produce identity documents in order to apply for refugee status, even though this is not a requirement to seek asylum in South Africa and is not part of the UN Refugee Convention.

    “Whether that’s a lack of knowledge or just outright defiance of the law is hard to say,” Amit said.

    She added that the DHA has also been denying entry to asylum seekers based on the assertion that they should have applied for asylum in the first “safe country” they reached. Yet no such principle exists in domestic or international law.

    Migrants, analysts and immigration lawyers have maintained that corruption is widespread in DHA offices countrywide.

    “Certainly there are a lot of people at Lindela, the detention center for foreigners, who were arrested with valid documents and who were asked for bribes by the police and by immigration officials,” said Amit.

    Ineffective strategy

    The researcher insisted that the South African government’s apparent view of migrants as a threat to the country is counterproductive.

    “There needs to be greater recognition of the fact that the migrants are contributing to the economy and they’re not just a drain on the economy,” she said.

    Amit pointed out that with better mechanisms for regularizing the status of migrants entering South Africa, both the country and the continent would benefit.

    “South Africa needs to realize it’s never going to be able to keep people out and just adopting increasingly restrictive measures aimed at just keeping people out is never going to be effective; it’s just going to be a waste of money. But I think until they have that change in mindset, it’s going to be difficult to accomplish anything,” she said.

    At the moment, however, a stalemate plays itself out daily in South Africa and on the borders of Africa’s most powerful economy…with desperate migrants doing everything possible to enter a country that they’re convinced will offer them better lives, and state officials doing everything in their power to keep them out.
    Listen to report on migrants in South Africa
    Listen to report on migrants in South Africa i
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    You May Like

    Ugandan Opposition Candidate: Only Intimidation, Vote Buying Can Prevent Victory

    Kizza Besigye says he has been drawing large crowds and claims he has widespred support ahead of Feb. 18 vote

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

    Sanctions Just Got Real for Over 54,000 North Koreans

    Shuttering of Kaesong complex ends virtually any hope of peaceful settlement to long-standing tensions on Korean peninsula in near future

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Moses
    December 14, 2012 10:08 PM
    The refugee matter is obvious when one looks at an example like Zimbabwe, research what has been happening there from 2008 till now - then inquire what a Zimbabwe passport costs, realize, that without employment, getting one is impossible, wherever you live. In short your life takes priority over a passport for several obvious reasons.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.