Ilse de Lange
2 minute read
17 Apr 2015
4:43 pm

Lawyers for Human Rights opposed to refugee camps

Ilse de Lange

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) has expressed grave concern about calls for the establishment of refugee camps in response to the xenophobic violence which continues to spread across the country.

Foreign shopkeepers closed shops as they take precautionary measures against looting, Bree Street, Johannesburg, 15 April 2015. Foreigners have been targets of Xenophobia attacks across the county over recent weeks. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

Patricia Erasmus, head of LHR’s Refugee and Migrant Rights programme, said refugee camps would only serve to further alienate this already vulnerable population.

“The policy of encampment flies in the face of South Africa’s Constitution and Refugees Act that guarantee freedom of movement.

“Encampment also entrenches the perception of “otherness”, reminiscent of Apartheid’s segregation policies.

“Camps are inherently dangerous, dirty and expensive to the South African state. Those funds would be better spent on ensuring adequate services are provided to all community members, no matter where they were born.

“Camps also undermine refugees’ ability to sustain independent livelihoods and make them dependent on state or other resources which, apart from infringing on their dignity, serves only to enhance South Africans’ views of foreigners as burdensome on limited resources.

“Claims that South Africa is “flooded” by “illegal immigrants” are based on a lack of knowledge on South Africa’s refugee system.

“Many factors contribute to a person being undocumented and few of these are in their control. “These include the tightening of immigration laws that increase administrative hurdles, severe corruption at refugee reception offices and the unlawful closure of reception offices without sufficient contingencies in place as well as the non-compliance of court orders by the Department of Home Affairs.

“It is also caused by an asylum system in crisis, plagued by poor decision-making, inefficiencies and severe backlogs,” she said.

LHR expressed concern about the lack of strong and coherent leadership to stem the tide of xenophobic violence and called for an immediate and coordinated reaction from the state.

“The unnecessary loss of life and displacement of thousands of foreign nationals highlights the need for urgent and effective interventions.

“We believe that this violence could have been prevented had the recommendations of the SA Human Rights Commission’s 2010 report been implemented by the various government departments and we reiterate the call for government to do so,” Erasmus said.

LHR said it intended laying a formal complaint of hate speech against Zulu King Zwelethini about his comments that foreigners “should go home”.

“Those in positions of power have a duty to make considered statements in public platforms and refrain from inflammatory comments,” Erasmus said.

LHR has called on government to take the following steps:

Short term
· Effective policing of violence and effective prosecution of perpetrators;
· Officials to cease making inflammatory statements in the media;
· Provision of social assistance to displaced people by the Department of Social Development.

Long term
· Addressing systemic and glaring deficiencies in the asylum system that prevents documentation solutions from being made available;
· A roll out of community integration plans and strategies;
· A roll out of education campaigns to increase citizens’ knowledge of the reasons for migration in the continent and to debunk myths about foreigners in South Africa;
· Implementation of the recommendations of the 2010 SAHRC report.