20 June 2014

South Africa: SA Marks World Refugee Day

Home Affairs Director-General Mkuseli Apleni says his department is finalising a process whereby refugees will be able to apply for their documents at any Home Affairs office throughout the country.

Speaking at an event to commemorate World Refugee Day (WRD) in Pretoria, Apleni said there was a need to develop policies and a legislative framework that will impact positively on the legal and social protection of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

"We remain committed to securing the legal protection of refugees as provided under international law, and recognised in our entrenched Bill of Rights," he said.

Apleni said refugees, like South Africans, will be able to apply for smart ID cards.

"Part of the reason we are taking these important measures is to foster social cohesion among all people living in South Africa - irrespective of race, creed, gender or nationality," he said.

Apleni also emphasized the need to promote educational programmes, inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogues to communities to dispel the myth and misunderstandings that may exist between the different groups.

He called on civil society institutions and all faith-based organisations to play an active role in unifying South Africans and foreign nationals or refugees.

"Together with the UNHRC [United Nations Human Rights Council] and other stakeholders, we will make special efforts to continue pursuing interventions aimed at promoting social cohesion," he said.

South Africa joined the rest of the world in marking WRD. The partnership between the Department of Home Affairs and the UNHCR dates back to 1993 following the signing of a watershed Memorandum of Understanding aimed at formalising the refugee system in the country, in keeping with international law.

On WRD, the international community seeks to draw attention to the plight of refugees and celebrate their courage and resilience. Also speaking at today's event -- held under the theme 'Share your Refugee Story - Celebrating 20 Years of Freedom and Democracy' -- was UNHCR Regional Representative, Clementine Nkweta-Salami, who said steps must be taken to promote social cohesion in communities affected by violence.

"The UNHCR stands ready to support government in its efforts to promote social cohesion.

"The government of South Africa adopted one of the best refugee legislations in the world, in terms of refugee rights. Increased efforts need to be undertaken to ensure these rights are respected," she said.

Nkweta-Salami commended the Department of Home Affairs for taking steps to address the country's overwhelmed asylum system.

"Having a functioning system is crucial to ensuring that those displaced by violence and conflict are able to receive protection," she said.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the coming into force of the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

According to United Nations, more than 50 million people are currently displaced by war and violence, some 33.3 million in their own country and some 16.7 million as refugees, mostly in neighbouring countries.

Last year alone, more than 10 million people were newly displaced; every 15 minutes, one family was forced into flight.

Most of the world's refugees - 86% - live in the developing world, compared to 70% 10 years ago.

- SAnews.gov.za

Copyright © 2014 SAnews.gov.za. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.