ZEF, SPT, PASSOP and SALC PRESS STATEMENT
CABINET’S DECISION TO REVIEW ASYLUM SEEKER’S RIGHT TO WORK AND STUDY
Durban, 25 November 2011
As Members of Civil Society, Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), Solidarity Peace Trust (SPT), PASSOP and Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) 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 4 organisations also believe that if carried out, any decision to revoke the right to work and study of asylum seekers will fly in the face of the Bill of Rights, and may be a subversion of the Courts that in the case of The Minister of Home Affairs and Others versus Watchenuka and Another ruled as follows:
Human dignity has no nationality. It is inherent in people – citizens and non-citizens alike – simply because they are human. And while that person happens to be in this country – for whatever reason – it must be respected, and is protected, by s10 of the Bill of Rights…The freedom to engage in productive work – even where that is not required in order to survive – is indeed an important component of human dignity…. This case was filed by the Legal Resources Centre.
ZEF, SPT, PASSOP & SALC argue that “reviewing” the right to work and study is a precursor to withdrawing the rights, a move that may tarnish the country’s image and deal a severe blow to the good work done during the Zimbabwe Documentation Project. The decision would merely force more asylum seekers underground, thus making them liable to exploitation in this country. This in turn may lead to increased tensions in communities with the likelihood of more attacks on foreigners. More than that, such a decision reveals more fundamental questions about the commitment of the South African Government to protect non nationals within its borders, as asylum seekers and refugees have already been stripped of the right for example to obtain a driving licence in this country.
Renewed armed conflicts and severe human rights violations have led to significant outflows of people from countries such as Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia into South Africa. South Africa remains part of the Southern Africa Development Community and the African Union, thus cannot close its borders to such people. International Law obliges the South African government to protect refugees and asylum seekers and to accord them human dignity through protection. In turn, asylum seekers and refugees bring in skills, entrepreneurship and investment that helps South Africa’s business, creates jobs for locals, brings people closer to services, enriches the labour market and opens important opportunities for poverty reduction. Denying asylum seekers the right to work will yield undesirable consequences for all South African residents and creates the risk of increasing conflict, violence, poverty and social exclusion thus negatively affecting all citizens.
The right to an education is entrenched in the South African Constitution and every child is entitled to it. Denying asylum seeker children an education robs South Africa itself of potentially economically and politically influential men and women and more importantly robs the sending country of future educated leaders.
The current asylum application system in South Africa is overwhelmed, characterised by inordinate delays and occasioned by inaccuracies. The Zimbabwe Documentation Project found the then holders of asylums papers having to submit them so that they could apply for work permits. The project only left a small percentage of the Zimbabweans with a durable legal status leaving the rest somewhat in limbo, not knowing whether they will be arrested, deported, or simply work their way through this overwhelmed asylum system. It is this already vulnerable group from whom the cabinet now contemplates stripping the right to study and work from. Such a move runs counter to the democratic principles that the South African government is known to champion.
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 henceforth call upon the government to develop policy frameworks that 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.
We therefore recommend that South African Government should:-
Overhaul and increase the Refugee Reception Centres to enable them to provide an efficient service instead of accusing asylum seekers of abusing the process.
Make a public pronouncement to avail the work, study and business permits to nationals beyond the Zimbabweans who have benefitted.
Formulate and implement a robust and decisive foreign policy instead of using Immigration laws to scapegoat asylum seekers for the problems that happen in their countries.
Stop forthwith what now appears a campaign against asylum seekers and to create policies that encourage tolerance within communities.
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