ANC members were freedom fighters, not refugees - Motsoaledi defends changes to refugee laws

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Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has dismissed criticism of amendments to refugee laws, saying the changes are aimed at closing gaps in the legislation.

Motsoaledi gazetted the Refugees Amendment Act, which came into effect on January 1.

The process, which the minister said had taken 12 years to develop, included seven major amendments.

They include changes relating to the definition of a dependant, exclusions, the abandonment of applications, the conditions for the withdrawal of refugee status, the banning of refugees from participation in political affairs of their home countries and the training of members of the standing committee on refugees, among others.

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But the changes have drawn criticism for the banning of refugees from participating in active politics. Some saw it as a way of encouraging xenophobia and something which was at odds with the ANC's history.

The party, which was banned in South Africa during apartheid, waged a struggle against the racist government of the time, from across different countries on the African continent and many nations offered assistance.

This week, Motsoaledi spoke to News24 on the sidelines of the ANC's birthday celebrations in Kimberley and said that the two eras and their circumstances were not the same.

"The ANC people who lived in countries did not go there to say: 'I am a refugee, just protect me'. They went there and said I am a freedom fighter," he said.

'Killing this country'

He argued that the United Nations declared apartheid a crime against humanity and this encouraged its signatories to assist in the fight against segregationist policies.

He defended several controversial nations on the continent, which refugees fled, saying they had legitimately elected leaders.

"We are talking of countries that sit with us at [the African Union], sitting together to resolve some of these problems.

"Countries that have been democratically elected… you might not like them, you might not like their economy, their principles, but the fact is that they were democratically elected in an election that was supervised and passed by international organisations," Motsoaledi said.

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Seemingly criticising the media, Motsoaledi said that what members of the media wanted, a situation in which people were given rights but no obligation, was "killing this country".

"Now you want to extend the same thing to refugees, that we must give all the rights of refugees but no obligation on them to the country which they are in?

"No, we can't allow that," he said. "That's anarchy."

He also bemoaned those who said that the changes were the ANC's decision, saying they were passed through Parliament.

Motsoaledi pointed out that without the amendments, the government realised it wouldn't be able to correct the gaps and weaknesses of the Refugee Act.

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