Rights groups up in arms over SA asylum changes

Human and refugee rights organisations here reacted angrily to moves by the South African government to review the rights of asylum seekers to work and study in the country.

The organizations, among them the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, Solidarity Peace Trust, PASSOP and the Southern African Litigation Centre, said that if carried out, any decision to revoke the right of asylum seekers to work and study would fly in the face of the Bill of Rights, and may be a subversion of international law.

They argued that reviewing the right to work and study was a precursor to withdrawing the asylum seekers’ rights, a move that might tarnish the country’s image and deal a severe blow to the work done during the Zimbabwe Documentation Project.

Forced underground

The organisations said the decision would force more asylum seekers underground, thus making them liable to exploitation, which in turn may lead to increased tensions in communities with the likelihood of more attacks on foreigners.

“We note with alarm and great apprehension the decision of the cabinet to review the right of asylum seekers to work and study. The organisations believe that revoking the abovementioned rights without offering an alternative will have the effect of practically making it impossible for genuine asylum seekers to get protection, thus ultimately violating South Africa’s obligations under domestic and international law,” the organisations said in a statement to The Zimbabwean this week.

“This recent announcement indicates that the South African Government is seeking all means to deport, and now starve, asylum seekers out of the country. It is worrisome, coming as it does on the heels of intended stringent amendments to the Immigration Act and the lifting of the moratorium on deportations.”

ZEF, SPT, PASSOP & SALC called on the government to develop policy frameworks that would exploit the social and economic benefits of migration, as well as support social cohesion and integration of all migrants.

“The organisations do not, by any means, suggest that asylum seeker rights take priority over those of citizens, but believe asylum seeker protection can only enhance South Africa’s standing on the international arena, while it is a token gesture of acknowledging the role played by the region in standing with SA against apartheid.”

The human and refugee rights organisations urged the South African government to overhaul and increase the Refugee Reception Centres, make a public pronouncement to avail the work, study and business permits to nationals seeking asylum in South Africa and formulate a robust and decisive foreign policy.

Thousands of Zimbabweans are seeking refugee status after fleeing political problems in their country. Home Affairs officials refuted arguments that the country was violating the rights of asylum seekers.

“In South Africa, we know that the only right that refugees are not granted is the right to vote, which is granted to South African citizens,” director general, Mkhuseli Apleni, said.

Post published in: Politics

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