Migration Bill worries migrants
By Hassan Isilow
Migrants have expressed shock at some clauses contained in the newly passed Refugee Amendment Bill, which is expected to streamline the application process for those seeking asylum in the country.
However in the refugee community it is believed that the bill is aimed at reducing the numbers of refugees and migrants from flocking into South Africa.
The Bill passed in parliament last week after receiving a majority endorsement from MP’s, contains a clause which calls for long jail terms for migrants who claim to be genuine refugees when they in fact are not. This clause has caused grave concern among migrants.
“I don’t know what will happen to me. I’m from Nigeria, but I recorded my case at Home Affairs as being from Ivory Coast. I’m now very afraid that I could be jailed if officials found out the truth,” one migrant from West Africa, speaking to AW News on condition of anonymity, confided.
The comment came after Home Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini recently introduced penalties for refugees and asylum seekers who did not renew their permits on time. Those who fail to renew permits on time are arrested, taken to court and charged a penalty of R2, 500, while those who falsely claim to be refugees could face a jail term of up to 10 years.
Last month over 30 Somali refugees were arrested at the Maitland Refugee reception center and prosecuted for not renewing their papers on time.
The minister introduced the new measures after realizing that some migrants were abusing the refugee status. According to Home Affairs sources, some refugees are alleged to have submitted more than two application forms, which mean they have obtained more than one permit.
“I think this Bill will limit the rights of refugees from appealing against refugee reject decisions normally issued by Home Affairs officials,” Dahir Ali, a Somali refugee and B.Com student at UNISA told AW News. He added that before the new Bill was passed, refugees were given an opportunity to appeal if Home Affairs rejected their asylum application.
Ali believes the new Bill will lead to deportation of many vulnerable people. He said many genuine refugees could also be denied entry at the border posts, since the new Bill gives immigration officials power to scrutinize applicants in order to determine who are genuine refugees before they are allowed entry into the country.
“According to my understanding, this Bill will create a huge backlog at entry points, with refugees spending many nights at border posts, because there are usually few immigration officials working at there,” Ali predicted.
Fatima Khan, director of the UCT refugee law clinic concurred to some extent, saying that the new Bill favors the rich at the expense of the vulnerable. She doubted if immigration officials at the border posts have adequate qualifications to differentiate between genuine refugees and bogus applicants. “The new Bill is nothing but cruel,” she said.
However, some local South Africans have welcomed the amended Bill, saying it will reduce the influx of foreigners in the country, who have been competing with them for the few available resources. “This is a very good Bill, which will help us from unnecessary competition from foreigners,” Moses Vilakazi, a resident of Mufuleni township said.
However, according to Dlamini-Zuma, the current legislation was being amended to so that those who were genuinely seeking asylum were not subjected to long protracted processes. At the same time, the department also wants to be firm with those who were not refugees but abused the asylum system.
“The amendments being proposed will therefore establish committees that adjudicate applications from asylum seekers. This is currently done by junior officials sometimes working alone. In addition, applicants whose applications are found to be without merit although they conform to the internationally recognised reasons for the granting of asylum, will be able to appeal the decision of the committee,” the Minister said last week.
Applications that did not fall within the parameters of internationally recognised reasons for asylum would be reviewed by the Director-General and if the Director-General agreed with the findings of the committee, the applicant would be deported. The amendments will also allow for the child born to an asylum seeker to be registered in terms of the Births and Deaths Registration Act, provided the birth certificate is submitted at a Refugee Reception Office in order to have that child included as a dependent of the asylum seeker or refugee.
“It is the firm conviction of the department that this Bill, once ascended into law, will ensure South Africa upholds its commitment to human rights, as well as its international obligations, while protecting the dignity of all those who seek refugee and safety upon our shores,” the minister added.
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