Radical changes proposed in white paper on citizenship, migration

12 November 2023 - 14:41
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Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Image: Trevor Samson

The Citizenship Act and Births and Deaths Registration Act must be repealed in their entirely and included in a single piece of legislation dealing with citizenship, immigration and refugee protection. 

This is one of the proposals contained in the white paper on citizenship, immigration and refugee protection published in the government gazette on Friday. 

Briefing the media on Sunday, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said this proposal will remove contradictions and loopholes in the path to citizenship as is now the case with different pieces of legislation.

The white paper states there are insufficient resources available to cater for people who might enter South Africa requiring citizenship to access benefits, rights and privileges that go with it.

“In the US, Canada, Switzerland and Britain — which are very highly developed countries with resources that far exceed resources in our country — they have developed strict immigration, citizenship and refugee laws to protect rights of their citizens.”

Motsoaledi said his department experienced difficulties in the implementation of the Citizenship Act, the Immigration Act and the Refugee Act. 

This was due to the fact that these laws were enacted during the transitional period after the country’s first democratic election in 1994 and there was a lack of harmony among the legislation. 

While amendments were made to the laws, because of a lack of an overarching policy framework, there were still deficiencies.

Motsoaledi said the white paper also proposed the government review or withdraw from the 1951 UN Refugees Convention, the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. 

The Refugees Act, passed in 1998, prohibits refusal of entry, expulsion or extradition of asylum seekers and refugees. He said the legislation was in line with the 1951 convention, the 1967 protocol and the 1969 OAU convention.

South Africa acceded to these international instruments without the government having established a clear policy on migration, he added. 

“The government did not make reservations and exceptions permitted in terms of international law. This was a serious mistake on the part of the government.”

Motsoaledi said many countries had expressed reservations in respect of both the 1951 convention and 1967 protocol. 

The new refugee protection and immigration legislation, he said, must provide for reservations and exceptions as contained in the 1951 convention and the 1969 OAU convention.

“Particularly in that South Africa does not have the resources to grant the socioeconomic rights envisaged in the 1951 convention.”


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