SA marks World Refugee Day

Monday, June 20, 2016

Pretoria – Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba says South Africa has had one of the most liberal asylum seeker management regimes in Africa.

Speaking at an event to mark World Refugee Day at the Catholic Archdiocese in Johannesburg earlier on Monday, Minister Gigaba said South Africa’s commitment to help refugees is driven by the country’s historic experiences as victims of oppression and state violence, constitutional values and international commitments.

“Since 1994, South Africa has been absolutely committed to contributing to the peace, stability and development of Africa,” he said.

Minister Gigaba told guests attending the event, South Africa is proud to be one of the few African countries which receives large volumes of asylum seekers, which does not have an encampment policy.

“An unintended consequence of our liberal asylum regime has been that migrants who are not genuine refugees but are seeking economic opportunities have used it to attempt to regularise their stay in South Africa.

“The sheer volume of applications from these migrants has placed an enormous burden on the refugee status determination process, which has disadvantaged genuine asylum seekers by delaying their decisions, in the past, taking years where they should take no more than six months,” he said.

Minister Gigaba said resolving the strain on South Africa’s asylum seeker system will require new policy proposals, improved operational efficiency, and support from partners such as UNHCR.

“Our immigration and asylum seeker management officials have done tremendous work to get to the point where we are now reaching status decisions within the target period in most cases. We are poised to construct a backlog project which we hope we will be supported on by relevant stakeholders,” he said.

The Minister said refugees are productive and can contribute much to society and the economy if they are allowed to.

“Refugees, as we are reminded by the people who have spoken here today, are people like you and me, precious human beings with ideas, hopes and dreams.

“They are people with identities, cultures and histories, and most importantly, they are people with futures if we can provide them with the support that we would expect if we were in their position.”

Sharon Cooper, Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), commended the South African government for its action plan to address the plight of the refugees.

She encouraged refugees to work with the government and said the UNHCR was aware of their plight and will continue to address their concerns.

Maseline Sangova Buhovo, a mother of six and a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) told the people gathered at the event her touching story of how she fled her country to South Africa.

She managed to flee with only three of her children. The other three are still missing.

According to her, her problems started after her husband disappeared and she feared that she will be killed and her children.

Buhovo, a qualified nurse, fled the country by hitching lifts from truck drivers until she arrived in South Africa on 18 March 2005.

“I still don’t know what happened to my other three children, one day I will go back and look for them,” she said.

The day 20 June was adopted as World Refugee Day when the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 55/76 on 4 December 2000.

This day was designated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to bring attention to the plight of approximately 14 million refugees around the world.

South Africa joins SADC countries in observing the day.

Earlier on Monday, Minister Gigaba accompanied by his Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan and Home Affairs officials visited the Bienvenu Shelter were they engaged with the representatives from the refugee community.

The Bienvenu Shelter caters for the basic needs of migrant women and children as well as refugees. Currently, the shelter is housing 19 women from different countries and 19 children.

The women are taught skills such as knitting and looking after children. – SAnews.gov.za

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