Response to the DHA Budget Vote 2014/15

Tuesday, 5 August, 2014 - 10:48

In this article, CoRMSA responds to the Department of Home Affairs Budget Vote 2014/15

The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA) listened with interest to the Budget Vote speeches delivered by the Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, on 15 July 2014, and Deputy Minister, Fatima Chohan. While we were pleased to note strong statements that corruption among the department officials will not be tolerated and an ethos of service delivery will be implemented, the minister raised a number of issues of concern for asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants.
 
Zimbabwe Documentation Process
 
The Zimbabwe Dispensation Process (ZDP) was introduced in 2010 and was welcomed as a constructive way to document Zimbabweans already in the country who were not protected. In spite of challenges in the permitting process, it has been recognised as a good example of migration management that avoids the expense to government of deporting or detaining undocumented migrants and allows those migrants who are contributing to our economy the dignity of documentation and legal status. However, these permits are now coming up for expiry and there has been no official information as to what this will mean for permit holders.
 
While the minister said he was “mindful of the anxiety among the Zimbabwean nationals in possession of this permit” he was unable to allay their concerns as no announcement was made as to whether or how these permits can be renewed. CoRMSA and its partners have been compiling lists of those permits that will be expiring this year, which have been submitted to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) at their request. However, for the last three months DHA has been promising that the minister will make a statement on this issue. It is disappointing that there is still no clarity.
 
Afro-phobia and free movement
 
It was notable that the minister made an emphatic statement that South Africa is not ‘Afrophobic’ in its approach to immigration policies. This indicates the level of criticism the government has been receiving in this regard and indeed his following statements, echoed by the deputy minister, that enabling easier movement across our continental borders is at odds with national security, reflect the concerns that CoRMSA has been raising over the last couple of years that the government is moving away from a rights-based migration framework and towards a securocratic migration management paradigm.
 
CoRMSA contends that regional integration and development is enabled by well managed free movement and not, as the minister put it, only possible once there is regional development. It has been demonstrated around the world that increasing border security so that it is harder to cross borders does not diminish migration but in fact increases the numbers of undocumented migrants, which is a greater threat to national security. Above all, it makes already vulnerable people even more open to illegal smuggling, trafficking and other perils.
 
CoRMSA welcomes the minister’s announcement that there will be a “nationwide discussion on a new international migration policy framework” and hopes that it will indeed listen to a range of research, analysis and experiences to avoid replicating some of the worst practice global examples.
 
Immigration Regulations
 
The minister welcomed the fact that all eleven of the new Visa Facilitation Centres are now operational and that critical skills visas will be issued for work seekers in these areas. CoRMSA however, notes the challenges that have arisen since the regulations came into force in May 2014. The DHA has acknowledged that the new requirements for children travelling abroad are additionally burdensome and have delayed their implementation. Already, there have been two court cases taken against DHA to enable spouses of South African citizens to re-join their partners for falling foul of the new rules. 
 
The new requirement for those wishing to set-up businesses to have a letter of recommendation from the Department of Labour stating the feasibility of the business and its relevance to ‘national interest’ adds to the bureaucratic burden of potential investors, and, in this highly competitive global environment, contrary to the statement by the minister, does not ensure South Africa is an attractive destination.
 
Asylum Seeker Management
 
It is of great concern that the primary issue raised by the deputy minister is the abuse of the asylum system. The figures she mentioned that show only 10.6 percent of asylum seekers are granted refugee status does not necessarily indicate that 90 percent of asylum seekers are unfounded or fraudulent. It is well-documented both by the DHA and other research that there are fundamental capacity and skills challenges in the refugee adjudication process. 
 
Furthermore, the deputy minister confuses the issues when she states: “We need refugee policies, legislation and processes which will address national priorities, maximize benefits and reduce risks to the country.” CoRMSA clearly and consistently reminds government that our primary policy commitments towards asylum seekers and refugees derive from the two international conventions (United Nations and Organisation of African Unity Conventions) to which South Africa is a signatory and our own constitutional obligations. This means that the decision on whether to grant an asylum seeker refugee status cannot be made on whether or not they are determined to benefit South Africa and our national priorities. 
 
Moving Refugee Reception Offices to border areas
 
CoRMSA is alarmed by the two statements made by the deputy minister that there is a policy position to move Refugee Reception Offices (RROs) to border areas and that the implementation of this is being finalised. Over the past two years, CoRMSA has raised a range of challenges that will be created both to the government and to the detriment of refugees and asylum seekers through moving RROs out of urban areas.  In response, only in July 2014, the DHA assured CoRMSA that this was not departmental policy. “We are extremely worried that policy changes with serious implications seem not to be communicated within the department and then miscommunicated to external stakeholders, particularly those that will be directly and negatively affected.”
 
‘First safe country’ principle
 
CoRMSA is pleased to note that the deputy minister stated that there will be “Improved international cooperation, especially in the SADC [Southern African Development Community] region, with regard to asylum seeker and refugee management”. However, this should be seen in a much broader context than simply around “how to implement the ‘first safe country’ principle.”  Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention has been interpreted through many countries’ jurisprudence and South Africa should be mindful not to see this as a ‘get out clause’ to refuse entry to all asylum seekers from third countries. CoRMSA believes that greater regional cooperation can benefit all SADC countries and create innovate, rights based, best practice asylum management regimes that fulfill the words of the Minister: “We value the contribution of fellow Africans from across the continent living in South Africa and that is why we have continued to support the AU and SADC initiatives to free human movement.”
 
- Roshan Dadoo (roshan@cormsa.org.za) is regional advocacy officer for the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa.

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