Congress of the People president Mosiuoa Lekota said yesterday it was time to tackle the problem of porous borders and the large numbers of undocumented immigrants in South Africa.
“The United Nations acknowledges the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. At the end of 2016, an unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world had been forced to flee their countries on account of conflict and persecution,” Lekota said.
“Refugees, alarmingly, totalled 22.5 million, more than half of whom were under the age of 18.
“It’s long been held that South Africa was the shining light for people on the continent looking to better their lives. However, allowing people to come into South Africa and illegally occupy buildings in city centres, as in Johannesburg, is untenable.”
He called for old buildings to be cleaned up into a habitable state again.
But his suggestion for a procedurally controlled intake of refugees to be placed in camps raised eyebrows at Amnesty International South Africa.
“What we’re concerned about is the human rights aspect of the refugee and asylum-seeking process,” said Amnesty spokesperson Mienke Steytler. “We, as an organisation, are not in favour of short-term detention camps. We believe they never remain short-term. Human rights abuses are much more likely to occur in camps and there is the possibility our government may not have the resources for service delivery.
“The camps would need to be able to handle an influx of people or a number of people every day.”
Steytler said a better option would be to reopen three of the six closed refugee reception centres and examine what resources were needed to process people properly when they had already integrated into SA society.
“If we could make the existing legal framework work, that’s what we should do instead of pushing people into detention camps.”
Lekota also called for legitimate refugees and migrants to be registered as taxpayers when they entered businesses to prevent a backlash from locals. “This is a role the SA Revenue Service must fulfill in the interests of peace.”