Comments by Deputy Minister Gigaba
Good morning and apologies for being a bit late. The purpose of this briefing has already been explained. During this briefing we will focus on issues of immigration, particularly several incidents taking place in the next few days, including some of the current issues taking place in the country.
The Minister will lead a senior delegation to Geneva this weekend to participate in the 98th Council of the International Organisation on Migration. South Africa is a member of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and this is an annual meeting. Among others, we will on Thursday, 26 November present a South African paper on our experiences in issues of migration in Southern Africa that will focus on how we are dealing with issues of migration in Southern Africa and how we are coordinating with other countries to deal with the issues that arise when dealing with migration. The discussion will be aimed at sharing our experiences while raising issues we think are a challenge to our region as well as the global community.
As you know, Southern Africa is experiencing some of the most dynamic migration trends in its history at the present moment. There is a lot of movement in the region, a large part of which deals with movement into and out of South Africa. South Africa is regarded as one of those countries which receives a lot of migrants in what we call migration flows, whether this involves people who are seeking asylum or economic migrants on work permits and tourists, including undocumented migrants. These all form part of the migratory trends in southern Africa and particularly in South Africa.
The challenge then is to use our capability as a country to manage these dynamic and complex processes. If you look at our ports of entry, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland, these are the busiest ports of entry besides OR Tambo International Airport. The busiest port of entry in South Africa is OR Tambo International Airport with people travelling in and out of South Africa on a daily basis in excess of 6 000 on a daily basis.
The second busiest port of entry is Beit Bridge with means that the numbers of people coming in and out of South Africa on a daily basis through Beit Bridge is quite high. In our own opinion, what this movement at our ports of entry signal, especially land ports of entry, is that South Africa is becoming increasingly integrated with Southern Africa. If you look at the patterns of movement in and out of South Africa, one of the interesting things is if you look at our land points of entry, one of the things they indicate is that much of this increased movement through especially our land ports of entry comes from countries with which we have signed visa waiver exemptions.
So, people from those countries are taking advantage of these waiver exemptions to come to South Africa for various reasons, particularly for trade and other economic reasons. But the other interesting thing is that we have almost the same number of foreign nationals leaving South Africa on a daily basis as there are entries into the country. This says to us that the visa exemptions we have signed are regularising movements of people, they are freeing people to move, using recognised channels and this says we have taken correct decisions in terms of the visa exemptions.
But, when we engage at the IOM, we will be sharing these experiences and the resulting challenges that emerge from such situations, including that many of our neighbours do not have the capacity to manage international migration and we need to deal with some of these challenges. For example, if you have a nine day visa waiver with Zimbabwe, or if you have a 30 day visa waiver with Mozambique, it does not make sense why you should find a Mozambican in South Africa that is undocumented. What this is saying is that our neighbouring countries need to assist in identifying their nationals or in providing them with travel documents to make it easier and safer for them to travel abroad, in this instance, referring to South Africa.
The fact is that it is much safer for you to travel if you have a passport, rather than if you do not. Naturally because if you have a passport, you can use safe modes of travel, you can enter a country through a recognised port of entry, and be recorded as having arrived in that country. Without a passport you have to use unsafe and irregular channels through which to enter a country and become vulnerable to a possible deportation, exploitation by organised crime units including human trafficking, and human smuggling syndicates.
In our own view, because of this increased movement, there is a looming possibility, and I am being conservative in this, that there is a heightened human trafficking and human smuggling movement in our region. There is a danger we are seeing a lot of people, particularly women and children who are becoming victims of human trafficking and human smuggling as well. This poses a danger to us because many of those use South Africa as a destination country. And because of the lack of regulation and harmonised legislation and capacity of immigration and police officers, many of these people are unprotected, will not be documented and will therefore not be assisted.
Even when they have been identified, there is a need for our regional immigration and police officers to be trained so they know how to handle victims of human trafficking and human smuggling. These instances may involve children who will not be able to explain or be afraid of the syndicates who brought them into the country. So officers need to be trained and know how to handle such situations. We will share some of these experiences when we engage with the IOM and learn from other countries that have had similar challenges.
As we speak, the Director-General is part of a delegation that has travelled to Tanzania as part of a study on establishing a border management agency. As you know, there is talk of establishing a border management agency which will deal more effectively with movement into and out of South Africa. Government yesterday announced that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) will go back to controlling the borders and Home Affairs, customs and South African Revenue Service (SARS) will remain focused on the ports of entry.
The police will once again deal with crime and criminals. The Director-General has travelled to Tanzania as part of that delegation so we can find better ways to deal with the challenges of border management. We will later send another delegation to Tanzania to study how to deal with economic migrants particular low and unskilled migrants. You should know that a month ago, Tanzania took a decision to regularise economic migrants from neighbouring countries who had come to Tanzania as refugees from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi. About two months ago, Brazil took a similar decision when dealing with migrants from Asia and other countries from the region. We are looking at what we need to do regarding the economic migrants in our country.
The challenge is if you look at the asylum seekers in South Africa, on a daily basis, at least 60 percent of the refugee seekers to the country are actually economic migrants. They are not seeking asylum. Not every migrant is a refugee but every refugee is a migrant. Now what you have are people who come to the country and apply for asylum. In terms of United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) international conventions, to which South Africa is a signatory, and in terms of our own refugee laws, asylum can only be granted to someone who is escaping persecution.
If you say in your application that you seek asylum because you are looking for a job; the situation is very different. At least 60 percent of the applications we deal with are of people who are looking for jobs. Their countries do not experience violence, religious or social persecution, civil war, persecution based on gender and so on. That number includes most of the Zimbabweans who apply for asylum in South Africa. Ordinary South Africans look for jobs in South Africa because economic conditions in Zimbabwe are not very good. You obviously reject such applications. But what we do, is in terms of our national law and international conventions, anyone who says they are seeking asylum is entitled to a hearing from us. At the end of this process we can say the application is founded or rejected and therefore you are deported. This process takes six months to a year. It takes so long because people who are economic migrants exploit the asylum system in order to enter South Africa.
We have taken to Cabinet, and Cabinet has supported us, to say we need to separate asylum seekers and economic migrants. The economic migrants and asylum seekers must be dealt with differently and separately. The Minister took this proposal to Cabinet and it was approved. The Minister will next week meet with Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) as part of the consultations with labour unions so we can begin the process on what the main tenets of this policy framework will be. Once there is a policy adopted in this regard, we will take the policy proposals back to Cabinet, Parliament and adopt a policy that we can implement and popularise, particularly to employers in the country.
We have also concluded the process of interviewing senior managers at the immigration services branch and we think this will assist us. One of the things said about the department, by the Auditor-General and portfolio committee in particular, is that there are many unfilled vacancies, even though those positions are in the establishment and ought to have been filled. We are expediting the appointment, particularly of senior managers. There are many vacancies in our immigration services, including the refugee reception offices, the refugee appeals board, and the immigration officers at the ports of entry. The conclusion of the appointment of senior managers should help us to begin to address these issues.
The government yesterday expressed concern about the people in De Doorns. Similarly Home Affairs would like to most firmly condemn the attacks on the people, their exploitation, and the exploitation of the migrants by the farmers and to appeal to our people to exercise restraint when they deal with immigrants.
You are aware we announced we would be renewing and re-launching the anti-xenophobia campaign. We are still working on this including capacitating our unit to deal with xenophobia so it is staffed by people with the right competencies to drive the campaign as it should be driven. Such a campaign must be a public campaign and therefore resources are also required.
Home Affairs officials are on the ground to assist the people especially those who have misplaced their identity documents in their fleeing from the locals. Part of this process of engaging with the labour unions and discussions about the separation of economic migrants from refugees will also include discussions with the labour unions about how to protect the rights, particularly of refugees also because the South African law allows refugees to seek employment in South Africa.
Having that right, not being unionised, how do we deal with their rights to protection against exploitation as well as the protection of South Africans from discrimination. So part of what we will be doing when we meet with the unions is to suggest that we begin to look at ways of protecting immigrants, refugees. We will also have these discussions with the Department of Labour. This is precisely at the heart of the issue at De Doorns. It is not about xenophobia. The problem is that workers have been exploited and that has made them vulnerable to xenophobic attacks. This is the challenge we need to begin to deal with.
We are also engaging Southern African Development Communities (SADC) and other relevant countries with a view to adopting and implementing a strategy to manage refugees and migrants in all our countries in order to enhance security and development. Part of what we will be doing in the near future is to host a SADC ministerial meeting to discuss how to harmonise migration management in southern Africa beyond the SADC free movement protocol. What more do we have to do? There are challenges that have arisen that show us we should focus on harmonising our procedures when it comes to dealing with issues of migration.
The department is continuing to improve its refugee management by improving the system, the leadership, addressing the processes we utilise in order to ensure genuine asylum seekers in our country are provided for and protected. In that regard, we are satisfied we are moving with speed and that the changes we have begun to introduce are bearing fruit. The most effective way of dealing with refugee management is to separate refugees from economic migrants. Even the people coming from Zimbabwe do not come to South Africa seeking asylum, they are seeking economic opportunities. We must adopt a general policy to deal with this. The single largest nationality that applies for asylum are Zimbabweans, the largest region that applies for asylum in South Africa is southern Africa, followed by Africa as a whole and then Asia.
You have people from China and India who apply for asylum in South Africa. We will also be reviewing the policy status of asylum seekers in South Africa. We will engage in proper consultations and determine the way forward. These will not be arbitrary decisions but will be structured and based on research and consultations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international and regional agencies. Once we have done so, we will announce the policy decisions we have taken in this regard.
The final thing I need to say: as you know our country is riddled with incidents of corruption but immigration has huge problems in this regard. Our anti corruption crusade will continue across the country. We will witness many busts in the coming days. A lot of South Africans are coming forward to report things to us. This is verified by our investigations following which the appropriate decisions can be taken.
This anti corruption crusade involves the anti corruption unit as well as members of society, South Africans and immigrants. We must make this point very firmly; many immigrants in South Africa are law abiding citizens who make an honest living. We must stop stereotyping them as criminals. There is such a tendency in South Africa, especially if immigrants are black. We must stop the national and racial profiling of crime in South Africa. We must ensure we work with the police to deal with this. We are happy with the support we have been receiving from members of the public. We thank South Africans for this and ask them to continue in this manner.
Question: Minister, the problems in De Doorns started with farmers abusing the immigrants. If that is the case, is it a general phenomenon?
Question: Minister, you have mentioned there is a problem with immigration in the De Doorns. Is it only farmers or have you identified other sectors responsible for exploiting the immigrants?
Question: Minister, we have heard the immigrants are being taken care of. What will the Ministry be doing to redress this matter?
Answer: The problem with the De Doorns, yes we have an office there, if I am not mistaken it is still there. There are challenges in various areas we are trying to deal with. For instance, we know that in Cape Town the refugee reception area is not sufficient. We realise we should have at least two outlets that deal with refugee applications. Secondly, we had taken a decision we would open an office in Bloemfontein to alleviate some pressure on Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. We will explore opening up another office in the Northern Cape because you also have a lot of refugees working on the farms there.
In reality a lot of the immigrants work on the farms. But what we have noticed is that farms that straddle the border areas is that a lot of farmers contravene the immigration and basic conditions of employment acts and employ people from nearby countries and pay them with goods. Or, when a person is about to be paid, the employee is fired, and reported to immigration for deportation.
This consultation we aim to have with the labour unions will include the farmers organisations. Of course, not all farmers do this, only a few. We need to regulate how immigrants are dealt with by the farmers in this country. There are other areas of employment. Many immigrants are employed on farms, in restaurants, in the retail sector or as domestic workers. We have had reports of the contravention of the basic conditions of employment act. All of this underscores the necessity to conclude discussions with the Department of Labour, the unions and business organisations so we can regulate the employment of refugees and other immigrants with low or no skills so that we can be sure that none of our legislation is undermined in this regard.
As Home Affairs we are attempting to facilitate their documentation. The role of Home Affairs with regard to immigration is mainly to facilitate documentation. And beyond that; other sectors of government must become involved. Part of this process of formulating a policy to deal with economic migrants and refugees is that we will establish a multi-stakeholder committee of different tiers of government. Part of the problem is that everything that has to do with immigration resides with Home Affairs. And yet, we do not employ them, we do not protect the immigrants, this is the job of the police, refugee children must go to school, when an immigrant is sick they do not come to the Department of Home Affairs. Basic services must be provided where they lives to ensure their comfort. Yet, there is no structure in government where the national, provincial and local government comes together with the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), business and labour to discuss how we are managing the immigration issues and what we can do better.
The issue of De Doorns has been raised with us and we have been discussing what we can do. There is not much more we can do other than provide documentation to the refugees. At the moment there is a forum of various stakeholders which includes local government, UNHCR, disaster management, other departments, the premiers office and a representative of the refugee population which is meeting to discuss what can be done and how to re-integrate the displaced back into the communities and provide them with protection. This will include a massive discussion and involvement with the community from which they were displaced so that they can resolve how to reintegrate them back into the community as well as issues around their security.
This has given us an opportunity to deal with issues of basic conditions. Yesterday the Minister commented from Geneva that in terms of our own Basic Conditions of Employment Act, immigrant workers are protected by the same regulations as South African workers. This exploitation of immigrant workers must be dealt with in terms of the law. Those who are contravening the law must be brought to book. It is not those workers in De Doorns that have contravened this act. It is the farmers and without instigating the communities to act against the farmers, this situation should have been brought to the attention of the Departments of Labour or Home Affairs.
Question: Minister, the driving out of Zimbabweans in their thousands was the first since May 2008. How did you feel about this? Have you done enough since May last year to educate the population of this country?
Question: Minister, this multi-stakeholder forum; are you not fearing a copy cat situation like in May last year?
Answer: Attacks on people in this way are always shocking. I dont think anyone will pretend to not have been shocked. But the problems of xenophobia in the country cannot be completely resolved. We are also seeing disturbances in the country related to service delivery. So, the issue is really one about how we as a country deal with grievances. We need to deal with this as a society. We have been educating the people, we have been running campaigns. We are trying to mobilise more resources to expand our public awareness campaign. But we think this is a problem in our society. People do not always address their anger appropriately. We have to do more, not just as government but also with other stakeholders, the media included. We need to educate people on how to raise their grievances in a better way, in a way that does not endanger the lives and property of others.
East Africa has been dealing with this situation for some time now. It is not therefore a problem that is unique to South Africa. This is not an excuse, merely a part of the picture we have to deal with. There seems to be a dislike for foreign nationals. I am surprised we have not seen more attacks like this, particularly in the period of the recession. It is not dislike for foreign nationals. It is anger at other issues. We are trying to intervene to resolve these issues. If we can intervene and resolve these issues, we will be able to remove the guise of xenophobia as a means of expressing anger.
We have to ensure there is no copy cat action. We must do everything we can to prevent this. We also think the police must intervene firmly and strictly. They did so in De Doorns. It will not however be the police that will resolve this issue; it will be resolved by us as the leadership interacting with the people.
The multi-stakeholder forum will be a culmination of all of these processes. We want to conclude these discussions by the end of the year so that when the year begins, we can try and expedite the consultations so we can begin to put in place the policy measures.
Question: Deputy Minister, is there a burning concern amongst nationals about the number of foreigners in South Africa?
Answer: No there is not, we do not have excessive concerns that there are too many foreign nationals in South Africa because we do not. The numbers that are publicly punted are sensationalist, drawn from fiction. I can refer to various research organisations in South Africa who will tell you that the numbers suggested in public are much higher than the reality of the situation. What complicates the situation is that immigrants tend to congregate in specific areas. In South Africa, the trend is that they would largely congregate around major towns; they target an area that is most convenient for them. You see them everyday and you think these people are many. You are just looking at the area where you see them constantly.
The other issue is sensationalism on how we deal with migrants as a whole. It is our responsibility to educate our people. It is easier to believe fiction. We are not worried about this. There are a number of migrants in South Africa that come in and out.
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Issued by: Department of Home Affairs
19 November 2009