Joint World Refugee Day  Press Statement                                                                                     20 June 2019

For Immediate Release

“Everyone Should Take a Step With Refugees”.


Over the last ten years, South Africa’s response to refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable people seeking refuge in our country has seen a dramatic deterioration. The extent of litigation is reflective of the fact that the Constitution is trampled on by law enforcement agents addressing immigration and movement of people in South Africa. We see little change in the state of crisis in the asylum system and the management movement of vulnerable people in the region. So once again human rights and respect for human dignity remains a privilege to be bought and paid for if you are rich.


A year ago to this day Lawyers for Human Rights wrote an open letter to the President. The letter set out the kind of blockages in the system that makes it impossible for refugees and asylum seekers to access documentation at any of the Refugee Reception Centres in the country.  The crisis in the Asylum system is directly related to a failure by our government especially the department of Home Affairs to put in place a policy that ensures movement of people in the country is managed while ensuring that the basic human rights and human dignity of every person in our country is respected [as enshrined in our Constitution].  We continue to witness infringements of these rights through exclusion and through unlawful practices by government officials who are meant to be promoting and enforcing these rights . We are seeing an increase in the practice of unlawful arrests and deportation of predominantly Black African foreign nationals. So arrest and deportation at both a human and financial cost is used as the main policy to manage movement and forced migration. Last year CoRMSA was part of a protest at the Lindela Repatriation Centre to denounce the use of detention as a tool to manage migration and to expose the plight of people in detention. Over the years, Civil Society has been ignored by the Department of Home Affairs and the relevant authorities on matters relating to migration and human rights violation. As members of the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, we are concerned that the Department of Home Affairs has had six changes in the post of Minister of Home Affairs in a period of five years.


This year’s World Refugee Day takes place against the back drop of growing calls for a global emergency climate crisis to be declared. In this context, while the UN Global Compact for Migration was launched at a meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco in December 2018, recognized that the climate crisis is a driver of migration. Yet States are under no obligation to recognize the protection needs of climate refugees. To date, South Africa is yet to sign on to African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention).

As we embrace and observe World Refugee Day in 2019 under the global theme of #StepWithRefugees— Take A Step on World Refugee Day, it appears as though the world and its leaders, including SA, are carrying on with business as usual forgetting to honour the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threats of persecution, conflict and violence . Africa which has been raped and pillaged for its resources during the colonial era, is now having to suffer severe consequences of climate crisis, a universal phenomenon.  Research published earlier this month in the scientific journal Nature Communications provides data and analysis based on forecasts of rainfall in Africa. Researchers are quoted stating that “Africa is one of the parts of the planet that is going to be most vulnerable to climate change. Our study of rainfall patterns shows there are going to be some very severe problems to face food security and dealing with droughts.”[i]

 We need an international plan backed up with resources to address the needs of climate refugees. In Southern Africa there is little if any disaggregated data to know what is causing the displacement both internally and across boarders and increasing numbers of destitute vulnerable populations.


We are making the following call to South Africa and the State and all nations of the world, as we mark World Refugee Day.

  • Address urgently the crisis and related corruption in the asylum system in South Africa;
  • Implement an accessible SADC visa to ensure safe movement in the region which is managed.
  • Recognize the plight and protection needs of people fleeing as a consequence of drought, and related consequences of the climate crisis, your so called “economic migrants”. We need political will to declare an emergency climate crisis.
  • For host communities to welcome refugees to their own communities, and to counter narratives that would seek to exclude and marginalize refugees and other displaced people.
  • And the Media to inform and educate listeners, readers and viewers about the reality and plight of refugees in South Africa and the continent.



In honouring the courage, strength, resilience and struggle that refugees face, CoRMSA, Lawyers For Human Rights, Amnesty International South Africa and Constitution Hill will be hosting an event ‘Building a Freedom Charter for Africa’, followed by a film screening of The Workers Cup at Constitution Hill, Human Rights Conference Room, Old Fort, Constitution Hill. EventDate: 20 June 2019, 9:00-13:00.


Joint statement by:  Lawyers for Human Rights, Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, Amnesty International South Africa, Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, Wits Law Clinic,, Refugee Pastoral Care, Refugee Social Services, Jesuit Refugee Services and Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.


For inquiries or more information please contact: Abigail Dawson (CoRMSA) +27748515683or Sharon Ekambaram (Lawyers For Human Rights) or Thifulufheli Sinthumule (CoRMSA) +27 71 358 0059/

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