SA has the third­ highest number of asylum seekers after Germany and the US, the United Nations (UN) High Com­missioner for Refugees told a parliamentary commit­tee yesterday.   How­ever, the num­bers had sub­stan­tially decreased from a high of 222,324 in 2009 to 70,010 last year, a del­e­ga­tion told Parliament’s home affairs com­mit­tee. Regional rep­re­sen­ta­tive for South­ern Africa Clemen­tine Salami said most of SA’s asy­lum seek­ers were from Zim­babwe, the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) and Ethiopia. 

She said SA had a com­mend­able asy­lum pol­icy that enshrined all the rights pro­vided for in the var­i­ous UN con­ven­tions on refugees, includ­ing a broad def­i­n­i­tion of what a refugee is and also allow­ing basic rights such as free­dom of move­ment and access to social ser­vices. 

“The coun­try faces chal­lenges with unem­ploy­ment, poverty and eco­nomic inequal­ity and ser­vice deliv­ery which 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,” Ms Salami said. 

How­ever, SA’s han­dling of refugees is fre­quently con­tro­ver­sial. This includes the alleged illegal detentions of migrants at the infamous Lindela repatriation camp and unsanitary conditions at Cape Town’s refugee centre. 

Ms Salami and her col­league Arvind Gupta identified the quality and efficiency of SA’s refugee status determi­nation process as an area of con­cern as well as the clo­sure of refugee recep­tion cen­tres in some of the major urban areas. Also of con­cern was SA’s inten­tion to pos­si­bly process new arrivals at bor­der posts. 

Ms Salami said there were an esti­mated 16.7-million refugees world­wide and 2.3-million of them were African. Among the 1.1million asy­lum seek­ers 329,608 were African. A huge num­ber of 33.3-million peo­ple were inter­nally dis­placed in the home coun­tries with 16.8-million dis­placed in African coun­tries. 

The top 10 refugee-producing coun­tries were Afghanistan, Syria, Soma­lia, Sudan, the DRC, Myan­mar, Iraq, Colom­bia, Viet­nam and Eritrea. 

Ms Salami sug­gested that Par­lia­ment assist in the pro­tec­tion of refugees by pro­mot­ing respect for them among the broader pub­lic and doing over­sight vis­its to refugee recep­tion cen­tres. 

Par­lia­ment should also mon­i­tor obser­vance by the gov­ern­ment of the var­i­ous con­ven­tions and pro­to­cols. 

Source: www.lrc.org.za Wyn­d­ham Hart­ley