Policy and Legislative Changes with Regard to the Amendments to the Refugee Act, 17 March 2016

The CPLO, in collaboration with the Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa (SIHMA), hosted a roundtable discussion on policy and legislative changes to the Refugee Act. The first topic to be discussed revolved around the National Health Insurance (NHI), which is intended to provide South Africans with comprehensive health insurance irrespective of socioeconomic status, but which excludes refugees and migrants. This exclusion needs to be rectified. The focus then turned towards various issues relating to the Act. The point was made that, since 1997 government has not released a comprehensive policy document on refugees but has merely amended certain sections of the Act. It was also noted that the situation regarding refugees does not merely affect the Department of Home Affairs, but is inter-related to other departments as well.

The Director of SIHMA gave an overview of the background to the major pieces of legislation pertaining to people on the move, as well as the changes made over the years to such legislation. He suggested that we are seeing a paradigm shift from a human rights approach to a security approach, in line with similar legislation in the USA and Europe.

Another common theme in the presentations was that migration is seen as a threat and not an opportunity; this is emphasized by the methods used in dealing with and approving refugee status. We have seen how the number of approved applications is limited to a handful per day, and even these are often only due to bribes ‘helping’ the applications to be approved. The bureaucratic process involved when approaching the appeal board results in some applicants having to wait for years to hear the outcome of their application. However, there has been some light within all this darkness for refugees with the increase in the development of jurisprudence that upholds refugee rights. The development of a mobile biometric capturing device will also make the process faster and safer.

Some other contested issues, such as the moving of reception offices from major cities to the country’s borders, were also discussed. Also of concern were some of the changes around definitions of family members, and around asylum seekers’ right to work.

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[L-R: Corey Johnson (Scalabrini Centre); Samson Ogunyemi (JRS); Sergio Carciotto (SIHMA); Fr David Holdcroft (JRS)]

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