Helen Suzman Foundation rejects white paper on immigration legislation

African Diaspora Forum says new law is a way to frustrate asylum seekers

18 April 2024 - 19:07
By Phathu Luvhengo
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi. File photo.
Image: Trevor Samson Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi. File photo.

The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) has rejected the adoption by the cabinet of the final white paper on citizenship, immigration and refugee protection while the African Diaspora Forum believes it is a mechanism to frustrate asylum seekers.

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced on Wednesday that after the cabinet adopted the white paper, it was published in the Government Gazette on April 10.

The white paper proposes a complete overhaul of the migration system in South Africa. One such proposal is that the Citizenship Act and the Births and Deaths Registration Act must be repealed in their entirety and be included in the single legislation dealing with citizenship, immigration and refugee protection.

The white paper says this will remove contradictions and loopholes in the paths towards citizenship as is now the case with different pieces of legislation.

 The white paper also said decision-making processes in respect of refugees and immigration should be reviewed, including bodies and officials clothed with the powers to take decisions in respect of refugee protection and immigration.

It said the current migration system was weak and unworkable, resulting in backlogs which will take years to complete. It said the migration system was also being abused and exploited by criminal syndicates. 

“The Helen Suzman Foundation rejects the adoption of this final white paper by the cabinet and calls on parliament to not adopt its proposals into law,” said HSF executive director Naseema Fakir.

The foundation said it was dismayed by the adoption, despite strenuous objections from numerous civil society organisations.

In our submission, HSF pointed out that the white paper fails at the threshold for sound government policy-making because it provides an inscrutable solution without properly defining the challenges which migration poses to South Africa.

Instead, the white paper bemoans South Africa's already strict legal regime for refugee protection and fails to recognise basic legal realities that prevent large tightening of our refugee laws,” said Fakir. 

Motsoaledi said the department received an overwhelming response to the call for public comments on the white paper.

The outcome of the engagements and public comments is that the policy position adopted in the white paper enjoys wide support. Only a handful of public interest groups are opposed to selected policy positions,” he said. 

The chair of the African Diaspora Forum, Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, said the white paper needs to be challenged and not left unchecked. 

He said asylum seekers and refugees are duly protected by the law in terms of the Refugees Act and the Immigration Act.

“When they operate the way they are operating, they are more efficient and effective and these areas are completely different, requiring such services from different pieces of legislation. 

“What they regulate is not completely the same, but it is just that they work in harmony, they work hand in hand, and where one does not deal with the issue it passes on to the next,” he said. 

He said the move by government does not seem to be the solution to the problem but is meant to frustrate asylum seekers and immigrants who arrive into the country lawfully and are already subjected to administrative action. It took too long before the applicants received responses, said Sibanda.