Not in our name, UN body tells SA
AID: Sudanese refugees queue for food in Uganda. South Africa wants the UN to give refugees shelter within its borders THE Department of Home Affairs has snubbed a UN request to amend misleading legislation.
The Refugee Amendment Bill is on its way to the National Assembly after approval this week by parliament’s home affairs portfolio committee. It says asylum seekers may be offered shelter and assistance by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees pending the outcome of their application for refugee status.
But the UNHCR claims it asked home affairs to remove all reference to the agency in the bill. Responding to Sunday Times queries, the UNHCR’s Markku Aikomus said it had made its position clear 18 months ago — to no avail.
“Currently, UNHCR provides social assistance in South Africa to the refugees and asylum seekers with critical specific needs through partners and in the form of food vouchers, nonfood items, sanitary materials, social grants, funeral assistance, as well as accommodation depending on the individual cases.”
Whereas the bill emphasised methods of welfare support, UNHCR was more in favour of asylum seekers becoming self-sufficient, Aikomus said.
“In times when global forced displacement is the highest since World War 2, UNHCR is able to provide critical social assistance only to a very limited number of persons of concern.
“UNHCR acknowledges the challenges the Republic of South Africa is facing in asylum management due to the high number of asylum applications. Nevertheless, UNHCR considers that the right to work is a fundamental human right, integral to human dignity and self-respect, and that reliance on assistance is not conducive to selfsufficiency.”
Home affairs spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete said that to his knowledge UNHCR had yet to decide what form of assistance it would offer in South Africa. “There has been no formal position from their head office,” Tshwete said. “We are still in talks about what type or form their assistance would take.”
Confusion around UNHCR’s assistance comes as the government moves to tighten migration policy.
The Department of Home Affairs has proposed setting up “processing centres” at strategic border sites in the hope of speeding up adjudication of asylum applicants.
The department says the asylum system is overwhelmed by the number
We are still in talks about what form their assistance would take
of people streaming in from subSaharan Africa, particularly Zimbabwe, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In a green paper discussion document it also proposed a possible low-skill work permit for potential migrants.
But civil society groups are critical of the plan because asylum seekers would be forced to live in camps for years.
Roni Amit, US-based former senior researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand, described border processing centres as a recipe for disaster. “What it will do, and what is perhaps the goal, is to allow them to deport people more efficiently, while also seriously curtailing the ability of asylum seekers to access legal assistance or the courts.”