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Sat Dec 10 08:52:49 SAST 2016

Managing migration, for the benefit of all: iLIVE

Mr. Richard Ots, Chief of Mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) | 2015-10-29 10:34:38.0
A Zimbabwean man sits behind razor wire surrounding a tented refugee centre in Primrose near Johannesburg, April 22, 2015.
Image by: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Between the violence against foreign shop-owners in Grahamstown and the scenes of Syrians arriving at Europe’s borders, it is clear that migration continues to be a policy issue that, quite literally, knows no borders.

In a world that is increasingly inter-connected and with populations that are progressively more mobile, it is unlikely that migratory flows will decrease. Historically, mankind has always turned to migration as a way to progress. Migration truly is “the Drive to Improve”.

The continued friction between host communities and migrants in South Africa reinforces the need for a revaluation of the effectiveness of migration policy in the country.

Migration is a phenomenon that affects many countries around the world in different ways. South Africa is, by regional comparison, in a relatively unique position. Because of its economic strength and its progressive constitution, it attracts many migrants from the SADC region, from the Horn of Africa, and from parts of Asia.

The profile of these migrants varies greatly. Some come as genuine asylum seekers, wanting protection from persecution and oppression in their home countries. Others may come for medical care, for studies, for cultural reasons, or for family reunification. However, the large majority of the migrants who travel to South Africa do so in search of economic opportunities. Many travel independently; others pay smugglers to facilitate their passage; and others yet are trafficked into South Africa.

They may enter the country at regular border crossing points, or by crossing the border line at unauthorized crossings. Some are able to remain in the country legally, through marriage, by applying for political asylum, or by obtaining a study or work permit. Others remain after their permits expire, and others yet remain undocumented ever since they enter the country.

Many migrants manage to find employment or start a formal or informal business. Those without a regular income are often supported by relatives, friends or by members of their communities, and some unfortunately resort to illegal activities as a source of income.

The problems associated with migration are as diverse as the profile of the migrants. In a country plagued by unemployment, particularly of low skilled labor, the influx of unskilled migrants is unpopular. Migration is furthermore sometimes perceived to be linked with various forms of crime; the spread of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria; pressure on the health-care system; lack of service delivery from public utilities; expansion of townships and informal urban settlements; over-full elementary school classrooms; undermining upward mobility of disadvantaged socio-economic groups; and breakdown of social cohesion.

Migrants are also blamed for “stealing” South African women, for witchcraft, for poverty, and for prostitution, money laundering, arms and drug trafficking. And as if these problems aren’t enough, migrants themselves are also exposed to their fair share: Migrants who are smuggled or trafficked towards South Africa may experience extortion, detention, rape, exploitation, suffocation, torture, drowning or murder.

The great diversity in the profile of the migrants, as well as in the range of social ills society associates with migration, indicates a level of complexity that is not typically addressed with a single set of policy measures. Although emphasis on the restrictive aspects of migration policy, as opposed to the facilitative aspects, may initially appear the correct approach, it is important not to underestimate the positive contribution that migration brings to society. Migration has the potential to play a significant role in economic development, innovation, cultural diversity and the realization of the country’s National Development Plan.

Migration does not start or stop at the borders of South Africa, and migration policy should reflect the international and multi-dimensional character of the process. We may distinguish four stages in the migration process:

1) Pre-departure or Motivation;

2) Transition;

3) Arrival and Settlement;

4) Integration or Return.

The first stage calls for interventions that encourage or discourage certain groups of potential migrants. Since the main driving force behind migration is the search for economic opportunities, an active circular labor migration policy would be required. Potential migrants need to be informed of which realistic opportunities do exist in South Africa, but also of the harsh reality of the labor market and the living conditions for undocumented migrants. A system needs to be put in place to actively match job skills abroad with skills gaps in South Africa. This encourages regular migration as an alternative to irregular migration. The intended effect, beside the influx of qualified labor for hard-to-fill vacancies, is to improve the administrative control over, and the understanding of, the migration flow into the country. Offering regular migration channels tends to disproportionally affect irregular migration flows. Bilateral circular labor migration agreements should be structured in such a way that knowledge and skills transfer is an essential part of the migration process.

The second stage, transition, also requires close bilateral or multilateral collaboration and coordination. Border management and other law enforcement functions need to be reinforced along the major migration routes, in order to prevent, detect, address and correct smuggling and trafficking of migrants. South Africa has a clear interest in starting its migration management efforts well before the migrants arrive at its borders. It is ultimately in the interest of many migrants as well not to fall prey to smugglers and traffickers. Even the transit countries, although perhaps only marginally affected by the temporary presence of migrants on their territory, should prefer to act against the criminal activities of smugglers and traffickers at their borders. South Africa, in turn, should contribute by helping to shoulder the transit countries’ administrative and financial burden, for example through technical or physical assistance.

The third stage, arrival and settlement, addresses one of the main friction points between migrants and host communities: the townships and informal settlements. Migrants are overrepresented in these settlements, and their mere presence may serve as a catalyst that brings the communities’ frustrations with unemployment or lack of service delivery to a boiling point. Upgrading and re-blocking the settlements, as a community driven initiative, strengthens social cohesion. These efforts should be complemented by strengthened disaster risk management programs in order to decrease the vulnerability of these settlements to external shocks. Projects on income generation and trainings on marketable skills will help decrease socio-economic frustration among the residents.

The fourth and final stage, integration or return, deals with the mutual understanding and appreciation between migrant and host communities. Migrants do, in many cases, contribute actively to enrich the social fabric of their neighborhoods. They also tend to be entrepreneurs or innovators, and manage to create or serve new demands for services or goods. It is important to broadly share and promote the impact of migration in society. Media have an important role to play, and have played an important role, in shaping the public perception of migration and migrants. They should continue to be engaged in both the positive as well as the negative sides of migration. Migrants themselves, first and foremost, are responsible for their acceptance and integration in society. Cultural awareness training for migrant and host communities, as well as for civil servants, helps reinforce constructive and peaceful cohabitation. Finally, in cases where migrants are not able to sustain themselves in South Africa, or for other reasons are not able to integrate in society, facilitating their assisted voluntary return back to their country of origin should be an option at the disposal of the law enforcement authorities.

Covering these four stages of the migration process: pre-departure, transit, arrival/settlement, and integration or return, provides a comprehensive and cohesive approach to migration management. The complexities of the phenomenon of migration requires nothing less. It is only by adopting and implementing a holistic approach to migration management, and by pushing for stronger international collaboration and harmonization of standards and practices, that South Africa may hope to effectively manage migration for the benefit of all.

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