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The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa joins the rest of South Africa in commemorating South African Human Rights Day

On this day 21 March 2014 South Africa will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of National Human Rights Day. Human Rights Day (21 March) was officially declared a public holiday in 1994 following the inauguration of former president Nelson Mandela. This national holiday is both a sad reminder of the tragic Sharpeville massacre and a celebration of South Africa’s exceptional constitution, which gives equal rights to all including refugees and migrants living in South Africa.

After 20 years of democracy in South Africa. Today, the South African constitution protects everyone who lives in South Africa and that citizens are entitled to basic human dignity and all human rights stipulated under the Bill of Rights. However, asylum seekers, refugees and other international migrants living South Africa are still facing many challenges which make it difficult for them to fully exercise and enjoy their human rights. To this day, we are still witnessing immense violation of human rights and maltreatment of non-nationals by officials from the public and various government departments. Despite 20 years of democratic governance, asylum seekers, refugees and other international migrants are still without hope of enjoying the sought democracy as the following challenges are still hampering them:

·         Xenophobia and looting of foreign owned shops- the current lootings and xenophobia elements towards non-nationals is an indication that much still remains to be done by the country in addressing issues of tolerance and respect for others’ rights. This exacerbates economic and social inequalities, and accompanying frustrations and resentment. The sometimes conflicting messages from some government officials often do not help in resolving the situation.

·         Access to health Care Services- right to access health care services is constitutionally given to everyone living within the South African Borders. This constitutional provision is also supplemented by the National Health Care Act and the Refugee Act. But that’s not a reality in practice, many asylum seekers and/or refugees are being denied access to health care services in both the clinics and hospitals level because of lack of understanding of the documentations they carry and inability to pay the full fee before accessing health care services among the many reasons. Such practice at public hospitals and clinics is likely to exacerbate xenophobia attitude and unfair treatment toward non-nationals patients. This also has implications for broader public health issues.

·         Corruption at various levels- Many non-nationals continue to report not being able to access services from certain institutions due to corruption. This has particularly been the case for asylum seekers and refugees trying to access some of the Department of Home Affairs Refugee Reception Offices. Some have reported being requested by some corrupt officials to pay bribes before being issued with documents that they are entitled to receive for free. This has led to some applicants who cannot afford to pay bribery to remain undocumented or illegally in the country.  The closure of some RROs in the country has also compounded the situation country as it leaves applicant with less options for application and many thus resolve to paying officials just to make sure that they get the documents as they would otherwise not have the means to travel to an RRO over and over again. From a human rights perspective, widespread corruption undermines rule of law, and damages the systems that are designed to protect the human rights of the people and provide justice. This also prevents effective social integration in communities.

Whilst acknowledging the gains that have been made over the last 20 years, CoRMSA calls upon the South African government to promote and protect the fundamental rights of all persons, regardless of their immigration status, as guaranteed by the both the South African Constitution and international law. This can be achieved if all government departments can pull together, and push each other, to tackle this scourge (violation of human rights), which is holding back the development of the country, and undermining many people’s social and economic rights.

Furthermore, CoRMSA calls on the South African government especially the SAPS and DoJ to intensify their work in ensuring that perpetrators of any kind of violence are brought to book and held account for their actions by facing the full might of the law.

 For more information please contact:

Thifulufheli Sinthumule, Advocacy Officer.  Office:  +27 11 403 7560.

Alfani Yoyo,  Office +27 11 403 7560. Cell +27 078 287 1485