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Refugee and Migrant Rights have Human Rights too

21 March 2015.

For Immediate Release:

21 March is celebrated as a public holiday in South Africa to commemorate the memory of the Sharpeville massacre which took place on this day in 1960 and to celebrate the human rights based Constitution that took effect for all in South Africa following the 1994 democratic elections.. In 1966, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed ‘Sharpeville Day’ as an International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The United Nations General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

On this important day for South Africa and internationally in the fight against racism and oppression, CoRMSA calls for the recognition and respect of refugee and migrant rights, which our Constitution declares as equal human rights to those of citizens, other than the right to vote. However, the current incidents of xenophobia and looting of foreign owned shops in townships in and around Gauteng Province and other part of the country is a clear indication that refugee and migrant rights are not being respected, protected or implemented..

Under apartheid many South Africans left the country to seek refuge in other states. Our political leaders should understand, better than most, the need for human rights to extend to refugees and migrants. Both the South African government and its citizens, including refugees and migrants need to respect and exercise the benefits of human rights equally to avoid the past incident of discrimination and related intolerance of persons based on their nationality and race.

CoRMSA calls for political intervention and a stop to xenophobia and ‘hate crime’ violence against non-nationals. Politicians and community leaders must never cease to promote, educate and raise awareness of the South African constitution: the right to move free movement without a pass book,, rights to education, basic health care and fair labour practices amongst other included in the Bill of Rights. There is a strong need for politicians to take the lead in condemning and eradicating contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination. Local political leaders need to take the lead in initiating community dialogues on human rights for all in order to promote coexistence.

Furthermore, CoRMSA strongly believe that peaceful coexistence can be effectively achieved in South Africa through continuous community conversation and this can only be successful if relevant South

African government departments such as Department of Home Affairs, Social Development, Arts and Culture, Small Business Development, South African Police Services and Community Safety including Chapter 9 institutions such as South African Human Rights Commission, Commission for Gender Equality and the Public Protectors can work together on addressing abuses of human rights. This form of conversation should include citizens, refugees and migrants themselves to enable them to voice out their concerns and recommendations. This will definitely promote the spirit of “Ubuntu” in communities.

CoRMSA is not alone in our strong belief that South Africa as a country does not want to go back to the time of discrimination based on race, or gender, religious affiliation, nationality or sexual orientation. CoRMSA is convinced that eroding of the protection of refugee and migrant rights leads to the erosion of protection of citizens’ rights. To avoid this, the South African Human Rights Commission should ensure that protection of human rights for all is their priority by being proactive rather than reactive. Civil society must also continue to play a central role in protecting and promoting human rights, and allowing citizens to hold their government accountable.

Lastly, CoRMSA pleads with the Department of Justice to speed up the process of finilising and publishing the long awaited hate crime legislation to criminalise all forms of racist and xenophobic violence and other crimes based on hate, bias or prejudice. This will assist the police and the judiciary to arrest and suitably sentence perpetrators of such crimes and end the current seeming impunity for those that commit acts of violence and intimidation in contradiction of our rights based democratic values.

For further information please contact:

Ms Roshan Dadoo Acting Executive Director – CoRMSA –082 816 2799/011 403 7560

Mr. Thifulufheli Sinthumule – National Programme Coordinator – CoRMSA – 078 287 1485/011 403 7560

CoRMSA statement on International Women’s Day 2015

Immediate Release:

CoRMSA statement on International Women’s Day 2015

Recognising the importance of Gender Equality for Refugee and Migrant Women

The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA) joins the world in celebrating International Women’s Day. This year, International Women’s Day will highlight the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, signed by 189 governments 20 years ago. On this day, it is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

CoRMSA is recognising the achievements and contributions made by refugee and migrants women in their host countries under the global theme of “Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!” We share the vision of a world where every woman and girl can exercise her rights, including access to education, health care services, employment, shelter and living in societies free from gender discrimination and gender based violence: a world where women can enjoy freedom of movement in order to seek safety from persecution and war and to build a better life for their families.

In South Africa, March is regarded as Human Rights Month, reminding us of our constitutional commitment to equal rights for all including refugee and migrant women. However we are concerned that much still needs to be done to realise refugee and migrant’s women’s human rights in South Africa and globally. CoRMSA acknowledges the effort made by the South Africa Government towards ensuring the visibility of women in public life but there is a strong need to enhance the decision-making role of refugee and migrant’s women. Too often the experiences of refugee and migrant women are not valued and their rights are disregarded.

CoRMSA urges the Commission for Gender Equality and all civil society organisations, government departments, community organisations, private institutions and ordinary citizens to discover and recognise the contributions and achievement made by refugee and migrant women, to work together with men in order to achieve a gender balanced society, eliminate discrimination against women, and to enable refugee and migrant women to have their voices heard.

For more information contact:

Mr. Thifulufheli Sinthumule, Advocacy Officer

Tel: +27 11 403 7560

Cell: +27 (0) 78 287 1485

Press release: CoRMSA calls for urgent political intervention to stop attacks on foreign nationals in Soweto and other areas

The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA) is deeply concerned by the lack of political response to the attacks on non-nationals in Soweto and surrounding areas.

These attacks began on 19 January after a Somali national was alleged to have fatally shot a fourteen year old boy who was amongst a mob of people who were threatening to break into his shop. Whilst we do not condone the shooting and we sincerely empathise with the family, we believe it cannot be correct for communities to attack a whole group of people belonging to a particular social group for the fact that one of their own is alleged to have committed a crime. Taking the law into own hands has never been the solution.

We acknowledge that there were initially some attempts from the South African Police Service to intervene and contain the situation, however, the continued escalation of the violence and looting of mainly foreign owned shops requires much more drastic measures from the political leadership to contain the situation and ensure the safety of foreign nationals and others within these communities.

We call for urgent intervention from the Presidency, the Ministry of Police, the African National Congress and leaders of other political parties to call on communities to desist from continuing with the rampant behaviour. The 2008 xenophobic attacks taught us that the delayed response from the political leadership also contributes to the escalation of such incidences. We further call for reinforced presence of police in affected and other potential areas to defuse the situation.

We believe these attacks are xenophobic and not purely criminal. In this regard, we further call for the Department of Justice to finally enact Hate Crimes legislation. This legislation would ensure that such acts motivated by prejudice are punishable and perpetrators held accountable thus addressing the impunity with which many of the perpetrators of attacks directed at foreign nationals have been met. The impunity is one factor that continues to make it possible for such behaviour to continue.

For further information please contact:

Ms Sicel’mpilo Shange-Buthane – Executive Director- CoRMSA – 083 257 9015/011 403 7560

Mr Thifulufheli Sinthumule- Advocacy Officer-CoRMSA – 078 287 1485/011 403 7560

Please find a pdf version of the press release here: CoRMSA Statement for Immediate release- Attacks on foreign nationals-22January2015


CoRMSA calls for recognition of positive contributions by migrants on International Migrants Day 2014

The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA, joins the international community in celebrating International Migrants Day on 18 December, recognising the positive contribution to development that migrants continue to make in South Africa and around the world.

Around 232 million people are international migrants contributing to the economies of receiving and home countries through earning, employing, spending, paying taxation and savings sent home as remittances.  In SADC alone, approximately R11.2 billion is remitted annually.  This contributes to poverty alleviation within our region, helping families and governments, yet migrants’ lives are precarious and they remain subject to discrimination, abuse and attacks by some within communities.

We therefore call on South Africa to sign and ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and to lobby for the entry into force of the SADC Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons.  SADC should not be lagging behind west and east African regional economic communities in recognising that regional economic integration cannot be realised without enabling people to move across borders.  If people are allowed to move legally, the rights of migrants are better protected and state resources are not squandered on arrests and deportations.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Director General, Ambassador William Lacy Swing said this year: “Governments should de-criminalize irregular migrants so that they can report smugglers to the police for prosecution and contribute to efforts against trans-national organized crime”.  CoRMSA shares the view that enabling documentation, which ensures the rights of people to move, benefits migrants whilst ensuring that governments are able to manage the movement of people.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon declared on International Migrants Day 2013: “I call on people and Governments everywhere to reject xenophobia and embrace migration as a key enabler for equitable, inclusive and sustainable social and economic development. Migration is a reality of the 21st century.”  CoRMSA reiterates its call for the South African government to support the inclusion of migration as a positive developmental strategy in the negotiations to replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

For more information please contact:  
Ms Roshan Dadoo, Regional Advocacy Officer: 082 816 2799
Ms Sicel’mpilo Shange-Buthane, Executive Director: 083 257 9015

South Africa’s controversial new asylum form

RefugeeJOHANNESBURG, 11 December 2014 (IRIN) – Refugee advocates in South Africa have reacted with dismay and scepticism to a planned revamp of the asylum application process which the government says is designed to distinguish economic migrants from people with a bona fide case for refugee status.

“The granting of asylum should not be contingent on an applicant’s skills, economic circumstances, employment history or number of dependants,” said Roni Amit, a senior researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Witwatersrand University, referring to a new 12-page asylum application form, which was published for comment in November.

The form includes detailed questions about education level, employment history and skills, including a request that applicants provide documentation in the form of testimonials and pay slips. There is also a new section on financial status that asks for details of bank accounts inside and outside South Africa and how much money the applicant has brought into the country.

The aim of such questions “is to separate economic migrants from people seeking asylum,” said Mayihlome Tshwete, the department of home affairs spokesperson.

“Our refugee system is being heavily burdened by economic migrants,” he told IRIN. “There are people who are genuinely in fear of their lives, and their applications are not getting the attention [they deserve].”

South Africa was the third most popular destination for asylum seekers in 2013 (Germany and the US took the two top spots) with 70,000 new asylum applications, according the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This was down from previous years when it was the leading destination, but it has still left the department with a significant backlog. According to UNHCR, over 86,600 cases were yet to receive a first decision by the end of 2013, while a further 145,400 were awaiting appeal decisions at the end of 2012.

However, refugee rights groups have questioned whether the new form is the best way of addressing the backlog.

Amit pointed out that under both international and domestic refugee law, asylum determinations should be based solely on establishing whether individuals face a well-founded fear of persecution or general conditions of instability in their country of origin.

She added that asylum seekers fleeing for their lives were unlikely to have taken any documentation proving their previous employment with them.

UNHCR, in a submission it is preparing to send to Home Affairs, will call for the new form to be simplified. “A lot of the information that they’ve put there is not needed to take a decision on the merits of a refugee claim,” said UNHCR spokesperson Tina Ghelli. “We feel that most asylum seekers wouldn’t be able to provide that level of detail. We’ve offered our technical guidance to help them improve the form.”

Long queues

In recent years, refugee reception offices in several cities have either closed or stopped accepting new asylum applications. As a result, new asylum seekers must join long queues at the three remaining offices where they can submit claims – in Pretoria, Durban and Musina (near the border with Zimbabwe).

Asylum seekers only have five days to submit their applications after entering the country before they become undocumented and vulnerable to arrest and detention.

Amit noted that asylum seekers already struggle to fill out the existing form and that the new form is likely to increase the barriers to accessing the asylum system.

“It’s going to be much harder with translation to have to fill out this new form; I think it will be very difficult for many people to complete honestly,” agreed Roshan Dadoo, regional advocacy officer at the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA). She added that the result could be a further clogging up of the appeals process which is where most of the backlog in the system already exists.

Dadoo raised concerns about other additions to the new form, such as questions about how the applicant entered South Africa, whether they received any assistance and who they travelled with.

“It looks as though they’re aimed at trying to identify smuggling operations,” she told IRIN, adding that naming travelling companions could prejudice those individuals’ asylum claims.

Home Affairs spokesperson Tshwete insisted that the capturing of additional information through the new form would help reduce abuse of the system. “We’ve discovered that only 5 percent of applicants are actually asylum seekers,” he said. “The best thing to help the backlog is to get economic migrants out of the system. We need to encourage [them] to apply for work permits from their country of origin.”

The figure that 95 percent of asylum applicants are actually economic migrants is based on South Africa’s rejection rates which hover between 85 and 97 percent, significantly higher than the global average of 68 percent, according to UNHCR.

Status determination process flawed?

But Amit, who has researched South Africa’s refugee status determination process extensively, argued that “the rejection rate in no way presents an accurate reflection of who is in the asylum system because the status determination process is so flawed.”

“An individual’s actual asylum claim has almost no relationship to the decision he or she will actually get”

“An individual’s actual asylum claim has almost no relationship to the decision he or she will actually get… So while 95 percent of people are rejected, that doesn’t mean that 95 percent of them don’t have valid asylum claims.”

She added that the new questions about skills, education and financial situation also have no bearing on whether or not someone is a genuine asylum seeker, “as an asylum seeker can be rich or poor, educated or uneducated, highly skilled or not…

“It seems more likely that what it will do is just weed out the poor, unskilled asylum seekers, who will just get labelled as economic migrants regardless of any asylum claim they may have.”

It remains unclear to what extent the Home Affairs Department will take on board the comments from UNHCR, ACMS and other refugee rights groups before implementing the new form, or how refugee status determination officers will be instructed to use the new information it captures. “If you’re a genuine asylum seeker, your economic situation won’t matter [in terms of adjudication],” said Tshwete.

However, both Amit and Dadoo expressed concerns about how information that falls outside the legal criteria for determining refugee status would be used.

“Why would you ask for that information unless you needed it for the matter at hand?” asked Dadoo.