IMMIGRATION BLUES

Inadequate policies, very limited resources bolster xenophobia

By Bheki C. Simelane 16 October 2019

Children play on a banner against xenophobia in preparation for a march in Johannesburg, South Africa, 14 September 2019. EPA-EFE/Yeshiel Panchia

The violent clashes between South Africa and foreign nationals in September evoked reactions internally and beyond our borders. Inadequate immigration laws and limited resources have been listed as the main contributors.

South Africa has inadequate immigration policies and very limited resources to combat immigration problems that have increasingly plagued the country since the advent of democracy. This reality was revealed on Tuesday in Tshwane during a dialogue convened by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) Commission.

The dialogue was convened following violent clashes between South African citizens and foreign nationals which swept across the country last month and forced some foreign nationals to return to their country of birth while some were displaced.

Delegates included representatives from the Africa Diaspora Forum (ADF), the Traditional Healers Organization (THO), cultural groups, the department of Home Affairs, department of labour and other interested parties. Home Affairs Deputy Director Jackson McKay said the country has no control over internal migration – the movement of South African citizens from their places of birth to urban and industrial areas to seek work and other opportunities.

“When people move from rural to urban settlements, there is no policy to integrate them. We need to find ways to integrate them, we need policies in this context,” said McKay.

McKay also revealed that a number of laws pertaining to immigration were currently being reviewed, including the Immigration Act which was being tweaked to conform with the department’s white paper on immigration. He said the Border Management Authority was currently before Parliament. Mckay said the Border Management Control Authority will assist in controlling irregular migration. McKay said the Refugees Act was also being amended.

In line with border control measures that are currently being reviewed under the border management authority. Mckay said communities beyond the borders of South Africa but close enough to the South African border – like some near the South African border with Botswana – would be allowed access into the country but according to the law, they will not be allowed to travel beyond a 50km radius.

McKay also revealed the extent of the scarcity of resources stating that the department has fewer than 700 inspectors whose job it is to track migrants. He said the success rate for applications for refugee status is 5%.

McKay re-iterated: “South Africa does not have immigration policies, therefore, migrants self-integrate into communities in areas which include, informal settlements, rural areas, townships, and other urban areas.”

In terms of visas, McKay said the problem was people who overstayed their welcome. “Those who overstay their visas are declared undesirable,” he said. Previously the department would impose fines of between R1,000 and R3,000. “We soon learnt that people simply pay and return as soon as they can,” added McKay.

McKay said despite the negative picture painted about the department, there were some good stories to tell. “Home Affairs is a very big ship but we are slowly turning it.”

Mu-Aalima Fakude, who represented the National Interfaith Council of South Africa, expressed shock at the Department of Home Affairs’ failure to designate immigration policies since democracy in 1994. “If you are only designing policies for the employment of immigrants in 2019, this means that for that past 25 years we have been struggling with this mess.”

With reference to the recent clashes between foreign nationals and some South Africans last month, Youth Development Agency CEO Wassim Carrim said the country was in urgent need of immigration reform.

Added Carrim: “Failure to fix the broken system through implementation of policies will result in an influx of undocumented migrants. They come here and live in the shadows, which makes them vulnerable to unscrupulous people. The level of crime rises because people are reluctant to come forward and report crimes because of their illegal status in the country. This makes a mockery of those migrants who are documented.”

The issue of migration was a broad issue that could not be left at the hands of a select few. Everyone needs to play their part, he said. Explaining the difficulties in tackling migration, he said some children are brought into the country by their parents when they are very young, and only discover their status in the country when they apply for tertiary education.

“Our country is at a tipping point. Let us fix the broken system. Our nation has an obligation to control borders and enforce its laws.” said Carrim.

The police were represented by Major General Zephania Mkhwanazi, who presented a report the focus of which was mainly the September violence that rocked the country and drew international outrage. Major General Mkhwanazi’s report revealed that more Nigerian nationals opted for voluntary repatriation. While 634 Nigerians opted for voluntary repatriation, 74 Zimbabweans followed suit, and 73 Malawians.

Mkhwanazi stressed that the violence was not planned. “It was spontaneous,” he said.

“If you ask me as a police officer if it will happen again, I’ll say yes, it will go on for quite some time,” Mkhwanazi said.

Mkhwanazi said 286 shops in total were looted in the September mayhem, and that 13 murder cases were opened. It has been reported that of those killed, 10 were South Africans.

“It can’t just be seen as xenophobia in South Africa, we need to look at the economic context. We need to look at all the issues at play and not make simplistic deductions,” said Home Affairs’ McKay.

Mkhwanazi also distanced himself from labelling the September violence xenophobic. “It was difficult for us to come to the conclusion that the violence in September was a result of xenophobia, unless we get a clearer explanation of what xenophobia is,” he said.

Mkhwanazi said police reaction was to formulate numerous pillars – the first addressing issues of community outreach programmes such as the provision of social grants. Another pillar will regulate and support businesses, especially small businesses while another will be responsible for outdated legislation and therefore irrelevant through the passage of time.

Mkhwanazi said there is another pillar that will ensure communication with diplomatic corps about challenges faced by South Africans while another will deal with law enforcement, and one that will communicate with local communities and provide the necessary feedback.

The African Diaspora Forum’s Ngqabutho Mabhena said they have established 13 committees in the aftermath of the September violence. One of these is the Anti-crime Commission, to promote anti-crime initiatives to help Africa combat the scourge of criminality and to change the perception that migrants commit crime. Mabhena pointed out that immigrants also fell prey to criminals.

Mabhena said the diaspora forum was hopeful that the engagement would bear fruit because all the various players had participated, including government departments such as Home Affairs and the Department of Labour. DM

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