South Africa: Management of Asylum Seekers and Refugees Under the Spotlight

Outside the offices of Home Affairs (file photo).

The strategic approach to the management of asylum seekers and refugees in South Africa came to the fore at a meeting between Home Affairs Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Minister and Assistant High Commissioner for Protection for UNHCR Gillian Triggs, met on Tuesday to review and also take forward the strategic approaches to the management of asylum seekers and refugees in the country at the second High-Level Bilateral meeting in Pretoria.

"This bilateral was instructed by our Cabinet to, amongst others, overhaul the management of the asylum system in South Africa with the intension to partner with UNHCR to provide increased technical assistance and resource mobilization support in order to enhance the protection regime and strengthen our strategic partnership," said Motsoaledi.

The meeting was agreed to in March 2020 and was delayed as a result of COVID-19.

The meeting discussed strengthening of the asylum and refugee system in South Africa, including:

  • Legislative reform
  • Social assistance
  • Judicial engagement
  • Refugee status determination and the backlog project
  • Durable solutions for refugees
  • Statelessness
  • The Global Compact on Refugees

Updating the Cooperation Agreement between Government of the Republic of South Africa and UNHCR

Both the Minister and the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection emphasised the need to strengthen the bilateral efforts to fight against the abuse of the asylum system while protecting its integrity.

In addition, Motsoaledi outlined that government is reviewing the Refugee Act, the Citizenship Act and the Immigration Act to align them and simplify them for everyone, a move that has been appreciated by the Assistant High Commissioner.

"We recognise that some of our laws were enacted in a period where things were very different to how they are now.

"We need to modernise our laws to reflect our current circumstances, based on our realities. South Africa does not have a problem with people who are legally seeking protection. The challenge is with those who are here illegally," Motsoaledi said.

Triggs said that it is important to provide a speedy and fair determination of asylum claims.

"Today we've made important progress towards making South Africa's asylum system fairer and faster. I know that governments around the world have faced challenges because of COVID-19 but addressing the backlog in asylum claims will make a tangible difference to the lives of people coming here to seek protection.

"We need to work together with government to address their predicament. The UNHCR will be investing in a project with the government to strengthen the entire asylum system and resolve the existing asylum backlog and to ensure proper documentation," she said.

Triggs also urged refugees and asylum-seekers to respect the local laws of the host country.

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