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