Border centres for immigrants a worry for SA refugee experts
Proposed changes to South Africa’s refugee policy — including setting up refugee “camps” close to the border — may aggravate xenophobia towards asylum seekers rather than provide relief, refugee policy experts warned yesterday ahead of a crucial debate in parliament.
The Department of Home Affairs has proposed setting up “processing centres” at strategic border posts to speed up adjudication of asylum applications amid a growing backlog of cases currently overwhelming the system.
The proposal first appeared last year in a Green Paper on International Migration, prompting an outcry from civil society organisations who view it as a move towards refugee “encampment”. Refugee camps would contradict South Africa’s current approach of allowing asylum seekers to work in the country pending adjudication of their cases.
By setting up border centres South Africa would be obliged to provide asylum seekers with free food and shelter in terms of international law, and this could fuel resentment towards foreigners in South Africa, experts warned.
“We feel it [processing centres] could actually exacerbate xenophobia because people will have to be fed and provided with shelter,” said Roshan Dadoo from the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa. Dadoo said the proposed amendments would result in “a lot of negative consequences not only for asylum seekers but for the concept of integrated societies”.
Corey Johnson from the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town said providing shelter and necessities may impinge on asylum seekers’ dignity and would be a misguided use of limited resources. Johnson said that the proposal may increase tensions in some communities and result in the government providing a low level of assistance to asylum seekers.
The matter is likely to be one of the contentious topics debated this week at the Home Affairs portfolio committee, which reconvenes tomorrow to consider the Refugee Amendment Bill.
Critics of the Bill claim it appears to paving the way for the border processing facilities.
Additional concerns about proposed legislative amendments include a lack of clarity around the fate of hundreds of thousands (estimates range between 80000 and one million) of asylum seekers currently living and working countrywide. The Department of Home Affairs also stands accused of bulldozing the Refugees Amendment Bill despite an incomplete extensive Green Paper public participation process.
Home Affairs spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete defended the proposed changes yesterday, in particular border processing centres.
He said that the policy could not be compared to camps in some countries.
“Those people live in those camps. We are not advocating that,” Tshwete said.
This approach would protect them from exploitation commonly visited upon asylum seekers. By managing these facilities the government wanted to ensure they were regulated and maintained, he said.
- TMG Digital/The Times