South Africa is contemplating significant changes to its immigration and asylum policies, including a potential temporary withdrawal from key United Nations conventions. Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has announced plans to toughen the nation's laws as part of a broader effort to 'overhaul' the migration system.
Central to these proposals, outlined in the government's 'White Paper,' is the possibility of South Africa withdrawing temporarily from the 1951 United Nations Refugees Convention and the 1967 Protocol. This move would enable the government to bypass certain clauses that grant socio-economic rights to migrants, as explained by Minister Motsoaledi.
The Daily Mail reports that these developments in South Africa parallel discussions in the United Kingdom, where the government has considered exiting the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to facilitate its plan of deporting migrants to Rwanda. This UK proposal follows a Supreme Court ruling that immediate deportation would be unlawful.
Under Motsoaledi's proposals, South Africa would rejoin the UN conventions after implementing restrictions on refugees' rights to work, education, and citizenship. New laws could also permit the repatriation of refugees to countries not considered dangerous.
The government also plans to establish a Border Management Authority to mitigate illegal immigration, a response to the significant cost and resources expended in deporting approximately 20,000 illegal migrants annually.
Motsoaledi criticized the African National Congress (ANC) for not seeking exceptions when initially signing international agreements. He argued that other countries have opted out of granting refugees equal rights as citizens.
The minister contended that the liberal laws enacted post-apartheid in 1994 are now outdated and necessitate a radical overhaul. Motsoaledi advocates for a policy that would require asylum seekers in South Africa to remain in the first safe country they enter, a change primarily affecting migrants from other African nations.
According to Statistics South Africa, the country hosted over 2.4 million migrants last year, with the largest groups originating from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Lesotho. Motsoaledi argued that the current laws have inadvertently fostered violent clashes and the emergence of anti-immigrant groups, as highlighted in the White Paper.
These proposals come as South Africa prepares for national elections next year amid a severe unemployment crisis, with official figures at 33% and estimates suggesting a higher rate of 42%. The United Nations has described the situation as a 'ticking time bomb,' referencing the 2021 riots and looting that led to significant violence.
Experts and journalists highlight the growing resentment towards migrants, who are perceived as dominating local economies and taking jobs from South Africans. This sentiment is fueling hostility and the rise of anti-migrant groups like Operation Dudula.
Critics argue that the government is using immigration as a scapegoat for its failures, warning that anti-immigration rhetoric could exacerbate hostilities. Political analyst Stephen Friedman emphasized the contribution of foreigners to South Africa, disputing claims that the law indiscriminately welcomes everyone.
“It is not true that the law just welcomes everyone,” said Friedman in an interview with South African publication Financial Mail. “There is simply no recognition by the government that the vast majority of foreigners in South Africa have skills, work hard and contribute to society.”