Refugee management is not a simple task

2018-07-22 10:10

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Terry Bell’s report, “Skilled Personnel: smuggled, exploited in SA” (City Press, July 15 2018), sheds light on refugee management complexities that are often simplified in self-serving diatribes.

A typical example is Claire van den Heever's "Humanitarian in appearance, inhumane in reality" (City Press, July 15 2018), which is far-fetched to say the least. South Africa does more with its limited resources in the service of all of humanity.

Bell’s report offers a rare glimpse of the push and pull factors ejecting individuals from their countries. He exposes, through the eye of a Pakistani trader, how people are trafficked, smuggled and exploited.

Without analysing who migrates, why, how and at what cost, it’s easy to downplay sacrifices and humanitarian efforts made by countries like South Africa. We learn that the trader was already in Mozambique before crossing the border, without papers, which were “arranged” later by his handlers. He left Pakistan not because of a well-founded fear of persecution.

We are reminded of grounds for qualifying for refugee status in Van den Heever’s recycled invective accusing us of inhumanity for seeking to test each claim to refugee status. This is prescribed by law, which the department of home affairs implements with applicable agencies and organs of state.

The trader is duped by some unscrupulous character enticing people to migrate to South Africa with no well-founded fear of persecution.

Though not the only factor, I suppose this should illuminate why South Africa’s refugee system is under pressure, adversely affecting the processing of applications of genuine asylum seekers.

The asylum system is not a failure. Far from it. Improvements continue to be made to capacitate refugee offices and staff. Think of the resources going into the new Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Centre, which features an automated booking system that should help in addressing waiting time while curbing fraud and corruption.

The World Bank’s recent report on migration puts South Africa as a destination six times higher than any country in the southern African region. That alone speaks volumes about the humane character of the refugee system South Africa provides in comparison to any other country in the region, where the right to work is extended even to asylum seekers, as well as a non-encampment policy, freedom to move and benefit from social services.

Last month, the department announced the reopening of the refugee office in Port Elizabeth, which promises adequate accommodation for applicants with legitimate claims. Like the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Centre, it has a streamlined process, baby-changing stations and multiple ablution facilities. There’s provision to also accommodate the standing committee for refugee affairs, appeal board hearings and immigration inspectorate facilities.

Regarding the Cape Town refugee office, plans have commenced to comply with the court order. There’s a budget allocated and funding for filling of key posts. The new automated booking system has been rolled out in Cape Town, and signs of relief to the ever-growing asylum-seeking population in the city are already showing.

In November, an improved refugee travel document was introduced as part of the roadmap towards the integration of refugees into society. This document satisfies international standards and, in fact, it would be interesting to pause and determine how many UN member states have met this significant milestone before criticising us.

The Refugee Amendment Act that was assented to in December seeks to enhance the protection regime by, among other things, allowing applicants to receive fast and improved services. It allows for legally qualified members of the Refugee Appeal Board to determine matters individually at the discretion of the chairperson, and for flexible employment of any number of appeals authority staff to deal with volumes of cases.

The need for a border management authority was mooted in 2009 for integrated and efficient management of the country’s ports of entry and the borderline. Cabinet formally resolved on its establishment in 2013. It endorsed its vision in 2014. Home affairs, with other government departments and agencies, was given the task of carrying out this decision. Before approval by the National Assembly in June last year, there was extensive engagement on the Border Management Authority Bill within government, the National Economic Development and Labour Council and broader society.

Isn’t it ironic to complain that borders are “porous” while opposing initiatives for enhancing immigration and border control? There were platforms for public consultation. The system of exploitation and cheap labour is sustained by corporates and by some among us who are prone to cry foul in pursuance of their own selfish interests.

Managing migration is a societal issue. Thus, the new white paper on international migration advocates for a whole of government and society approach, and outlines roles of national, provincial and local government.

There is political will. In the broader scheme of things, this became clearer last year when Cabinet approved a new business case for the repositioning of home affairs. It said, inter alia, that the department must be positioned within the security system of the state to enable it to deliver its full mandate as a critical enabler of inclusive economic development, national security, effective service delivery and efficient administration.

- David Hlabane is a media manager at the department of home affairs.

Read more on:    migrants

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