Zuma repeats mistaken refugee claim

New York – President Jacob Zuma has repeated the erroneous claim that South Africa is the biggest recipient of asylum seekers.

Punting his peacekeeping efforts and the African Union infrastructure programme he heads as two contributions South Africa was making to reduce the refugee population locally, Zuma told delegates at the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants on Monday, "Over time, sub-Saharan Africa has hosted and continues to host a vast number of forcibly displaced persons with South Africa being the largest single recipient of asylum seekers."

This is despite Africa Check last month saying that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in a report last year listed the country as the tenth biggest recipient of asylum seekers.

It also said records were too poor to verify exactly how many asylum seekers there were in South Africa.

Going off script, Zuma repeated last year’s admonishment of Nato’s bombing of Libya as a big cause for the displacement of people.

He said: "It is important also not to glide over the causes (of displacement) and the causes are not the same.

"I’m sure you’ll remember that before the problems in Libya, north Africa was at peace with itself. It was the manner in which we handled the Libyan question that has given rise to refugees coming from that country and crossing to Europe et cetera.

"I think it says to us we must therefore, when we take actions when there are growing problems, we must think carefully and look at what could be the consequences of such actions, because the movement of people arises from different causes and some causes were not necessary at all, and in some cases it is the interests of those who are outside the countries in which the problems begin, so whilst looking at it, we must also look at other very fresh actions that resulted in creating insecurity in other areas.

"We look forward to the urgent engagement on this matter and real solutions being found and we recommit ourselves to being a partner for positive change in that regards."

Collective solutions

South Africa has "also been closely involved in post-conflict reconstruction and development".

The country "played an instrumental role, under the auspices of the African Union, in the establishment of the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative aimed at ensuring the acceleration of regional infrastructure development around the African continent", he said.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba told News24 on the sidelines of the summit that Africa should raise its collective voice about issues that affect it and not allow dominant countries to set the agenda.

"Instead of coming to platforms like this and each one parading in the international forum trying to portray themselves in a good light, we need to learn to raise collective challenges and address collective solutions to those challenges," he said.

Last year when the European Union complained about receiving 100 000 refugees, they did not realise that South Africa as one country alone had received 100 000 refugees, he said, even though it lacked resources to deal with the issue.

Gigaba said the African Union's Agenda 2063 provided "a road map towards the better integration of migration on the African continent".

Gigaba said South Africa, as a more developed country on the continent, should lead on these matters.

The UN General Assembly debate is set to kick off on Tuesday.

* This story has been corrected to incorporate elements of Zuma's speech that were not scripted, as the original report was written off his prepared speech. The sentence about South Africa being the largest recipient of asylum seekers was initially ambiguous, and the full sentence was added for clarity.

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