Business Maverick


After the Bell: When it comes to immigration, honestly, wir schaffen das

After the Bell: When it comes to immigration, honestly, wir schaffen das
(Photos: iStock | John Moore / Getty Images)

It’s difficult to distinguish between a political refugee and an economic refugee and, in the modern era, this distinction is critical.

Here’s a question: If you are hostile to immigration, are you intellectually impaired or morally defunct? “Both” would also be an optional answer.

There are few political issues where the factual record and political prejudices are so diametrically opposed. South Africa, in the first blush of its youthful democratic experiment in 1996, acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to Refugees. It did so without noting “reservations” in domestic law, unlike many other countries.

Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi now says this was “a serious mistake on the part of the government”. 

In fact, it wasn’t a mistake at all; it was a very deliberate act in consideration of all the African countries that had taken in ANC and PAC cadres over the years – thousands upon thousands of them.

You could say it was naive, but what you can’t say, if you are being honest, is that the decision was an unintentional mistake. 

As a result of this decision taken by the ANC out of respect for its benefactors, who paid a heavy price, BTW, for the honour, Motsoaledi has suffered a string of embarrassing legal defeats which were entirely predictable because the department failed to appreciate the law.

So now, of course, Motsoaledi wants to change the law. 

But it’s not only the law that is applicable here but the UN conventions on refugees. So, the law has to be changed and the conventions have to be unsigned, and then re-signed with the said “reservations”.

According to Motsoaledi, “many” other countries signed the conventions with reservations. This is true. Overall, 146 countries are parties to the conventions, and about half have registered some kind of reservation. But the reservations were often very slight. 

Motsoaledi proposes temporary exit from UN Refugee Convention and overhaul of immigration regimen

One of the general rules of the 1951 Convention is that refugees should not have less rights than other, foreign-born workers. Seems fair.

Often, the reservations simply underline this rule. For example, France’s only concern was that the stipulations should not be interpreted to mean that refugees would not be included in national quotas of foreign workers. In other words, they shouldn’t rank higher than other foreigners. 

Denmark’s reservation was that refugees should not get the special treatment granted to workers of other Scandinavian countries, who at the time ranked a bit higher than other foreign workers. And so on.

The reservation Motsoaledi wants to include is entirely different. 

He wants to make it legal for SA to refuse refugee status if the applicant did not apply at the first safe country they travelled through to get to SA. 

This would in effect mean that refugees from countries that don’t share a border with SA could be immediately deported. Motsoaledi wants the first safe-country principle “strictly applied”. And he wants quotas.

The white paper makes constant comparisons to the highly publicised immigration problems faced by the US, Canada, Switzerland and Britain – “developed countries with resources that far exceed those of South Africa”. These countries, he says, “have developed strict immigration, citizenship and refugee laws in order to protect the rights of their citizens”.

Of course, this is true, but what these countries are worried about is that, being rich countries, they will be overwhelmed by refugees precisely because they are rich countries. And in respect of at least some European countries, this is a misrepresentation. 

As former German chancellor Angela Merkel said in respect of the millions, and I do mean millions, of essentially economic refugees flooding into Germany from Syria and Ukraine, “Wir schaffen das” (We can do this).

This is the reverse of Motsoaledi’s vision. He seems to want to ban all refugees. 

But most European countries have wrestled with the issue, tried hard to accommodate refugees, and broadly treated them with some sympathy, particularly in Germany, but also in Sweden, Austria and France. 

Foreign immigrants in most European countries are now around 8% of the total population.

Motsoaledi is right in one respect; it’s extremely difficult to distinguish between a political refugee and an economic refugee and, in the modern era, this distinction is critical because somehow people feel less sympathetic to economic refugees than people who have been oppressed politically. It feels like they should belong to different classes. But should they?

This brings us to the economics of immigration, and here, academic paper after academic paper shows that people who migrate for economic reasons are hardworking, dynamic and net economic contributors. In other words, they increase overall economic activity beyond their contribution. 

I suspect that these are the precise reasons Motsoaledi wants to keep them out; because big swathes of his constituency just don’t like the competition. 

However, even in this, Motsoaledi is making an economic mistake. 

Immigrants do increase the competition. It is uncomfortable for locals. And if we are being honest, they might also tend to increase crime rates. However, academic studies show that after a time, they tend to improve the overall market for all participants, including their competitors. How so? Because, duh, that is how economics works, Daffy duck.

You can see something of this now in spaza shops across the county. 

In the face of west African spaza shop owners taking market share, local spaza shops are now rapidly consolidating their supply channels, forming buying clubs and improving logistics.

By introducing this legislation, Motsoaledi is not only joining one of the most loathsome political clubs in the world but also one that is dominated by extreme right-wingers, which is so odd for someone who claims to be a socialist. 

This club includes people like former US president Donald Trump, whose wife is an immigrant. And a string of Conservative Party UK prime ministers posturing as “tough on illegal immigration”, including current UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, even though his parents were African immigrants! Honestly, the duplicity and perfidy of these people is just totally beyond.

The white paper is out for public comment. If you have a heart and/or a brain, please consider writing in to persuade government to reject this horrible proposal. 

Refugees are not responsible for SA’s economic problems; the people responsible are Motsoaledi and his party. Obvs. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Nic Tsangarakis says:

    Important to use facts (vs myths) to inform thinking and decision making. Like Tim says there seems to be little evidence to suggest that refugees and immigrants leads to adverse economic and social impacts like more crime. Shame on Minister Motsoaledi for suggesting otherwise and trying to change the law. Please voice your opposition.

  • kat moa says:

    But let people respect our laws & not prolong their stay

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