21 June 2011
South Africa is committed to ensuring that legitimate asylum seekers have their hopes, humanity and dignity restored when they seek protection in the country, says Deputy Home Affairs Minister Fatima Chohan.
Speaking ahead of World Refugee Day in Soweto on Sunday, Chohan said proposed amendments to South Africa’s Refugee and Immigration Acts were aimed at achieving this.
At the same time, the amendments would also make it more difficult for those who tried to abuse the asylum seeker processes or the country’s immigration laws.
Chohan noted that South Africa has been a receiving country for refugees from the region, the continent and as far away as Bangladesh and Pakistan.
‘More asylum seekers than whole EU’
“As a developing middle-income country, South Africa now has more asylum seekers to deal with than all 27 countries of the European Union combined,” Chohan said.
She acknowledged, however, that one of the reasons South Africa had such a high level of applicants was partly due to the country’s asylum management process lacking in many respects.
“We are alive to the weaknesses in the system and are concerned that the huge influx of applications from individuals intent on abusing the relatively simple process of regularisation that the asylum management process presents, ultimately serve to disadvantage genuine refugees, as our resources are diverted away from offering them the level of service and protection that we strive to achieve.”
Amendments to the Refugee Act
Amendments to the Refugee Act recently promulgated in Parliament are intended to streamline the processes of application for asylum by making it more efficient and credible.
“Amongst others, we are now proposing committees that will decide on the status of applications,” Chohan said. “Members of these committees will have different expertise required to adjudicate such matters and are expected to make decisions efficiently while restoring the integrity of the process.”
An Appeals Authority has also been proposed. This authority will be able to meet in groups at different centres to consider applications, thereby expediting the process.
The amendment also provides for the registration of newborn children of refugees who, like South African citizens, will be registered at any Home Affairs office.
Parents would then have to present the birth certificate at a Refugee Reception office in order to have that child included as the refugee’s dependent, Chohan added.
The department is also initiating a process to completely review the asylum seeker management process.
Turning to the issue of economic migrants, Chohan noted that the country would continue to experience the phenomenon of economic migrants as long as development on the continent remained uneven. People in various African countries were subjected to social and economic underdevelopment, and experienced deprivation relating to food, education, healthcare and financial stability.
“It is in recognition of this reality that we will be reviewing the policy and regulatory framework to manage this kind of migration to ensure we become more responsive to current conditions,” she said.
The department will be implementing an integrated immigration management system, which will include an Amendment to the Immigration Act of 2002. This will ensure that the department is aligned to national priorities of government, which includes job creation.
“Our visa regime for business people and investors will therefore be simplified, while we will also facilitate the recruitment of critical skills through the introduction of a critical skills work visa. We have also simplified requirements for the issuing of our student visas,” Chohan said.
World Refugee Day is commemorated globally on 20 June.