13 November 2014
South Africa has a commendable asylum policy that’s enshrines all the rights provided in the various United Nations conventions on refugees, according to a representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Speaking to the South African home affairs parliamentary committee on Tuesday, 12 November, UNHCR Regional Representative for Southern Africa Clementine Nkweta-Salami said South Africa has the third highest number of number of asylum seekers in the world after Germany and the US.
Nkweta-Salami said there is an estimated 16.7-million refugees worldwide and 2.3-million of them are African. Among the 1.1-million asylum seekers 329 608 are African. A huge number of 33.3-million people were internally displaced in the home countries with 16.8-million displaced in African countries.
Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Iraq, Colombia, Vietnam and Eritrea top the list of refugee-producing countries in the world.
South Africa currently harbours more than 70 000 refugees, most of whom are from Zimbabwe, the DRC and Ethiopia. These refugees are afforded all the basic rights such as freedom of movement and access to social services, despite South Africa facing challenges of unemployment, poverty, economic inequality and service delivery, according to Nkweta-Salami.
“[This] puts refugees and asylum seekers in conflict with host populations (who are) fuelling xenophobia.
“The high numbers of applications, backlogs and abuse of the system by migrants who have no other immigration alternatives affect the quality and efficiency of the refugee status determination process,” Nkweta-Salami said.
There are areas where South Africa can improve handling of refugees, though. Nkweta-Salami said there is usually allegations of illegal detention of migrants by South Africa, especially at the Lindela repatriation camp, and unsanitary conditions at Cape Town’s refugee centre.
In addition, South Africa can improve on its refugee status determination process and stop the closure of refugee reception centres in some of the major urban centres. Another area of concern was South Africa’s plans to process new arrivals at the border post, according to Nkweta-Salami.
Parliament can assist in the protection of refugees in the country, Nkweta-Salami said, by educating the broader public and doing oversight visits to refugee reception centres.