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Politicians have a duty to make it clear that immigrants are allowed to live in SA

Source: , 22/07/2020

South African law permits immigrants to take up jobs and live in
this country. Where problems in the immigration and refugee
systems arise, there are regulations in place to manage these.
Loosely blaming foreigners for job losses, unemployment, poverty
and crime simply fuels xenophobia and puts people’s lives and
well-being at risk.
Xenophobic violence in South Africa has been perpetrated recently
by truck drivers who are demanding 100% employment of locals in
the industry. We have also seen a series of attacks on immigrants
living in informal settlements in Vredenburg in the Western Cape `
their lives were threatened and they were instructed to leave the
town.
If it is to make any impact on xenophobia in the country, the
South African government needs to consider the factors that
trigger such violence against immigrants originating from African
countries.
Three categories of immigrants ` namely economic migrants,
refugees and asylum seekers ` are frequently viewed (in the
mainstream media and on social media platforms), as undesirable
people as they are believed to impose a heavy burden on the state
purse because they need state support to improve their quality of
life. Many of them do not meaningfully contribute to economic
growth.
The perception of their undesirability stems from the fact that
the admission of immigrants to the country is, by law, based on
self-sufficiency and economic independence. This implies that all
those who cannot support themselves and their families are legally
undesirable as immigrants, and can only be considered for
admission to the country if they are asylum seekers escaping
persecution or oppression in their home countries.
It’s important for South Africans to know that immigrants can
legitimately be admitted in the country to work or set up a
business. In these situations, they are granted either general
work, critical skills, or business visas or permits. Moreover,
general work visas are issued only to immigrants where South
Africans with the relevant skills are not available for
appointment.
Worth noting is that this limitation does not apply to refugees
and asylum seekers, who enjoy an automatic right to work in terms
of the regulations on refugees because they are in the greatest
need of work to support themselves.
Some immigrants who are not asylum seekers and who also do not
meet the immigration law requirement of self-sufficiency abuse the
country’s asylum management system to regularise their stay.
Economic migrants who do not meet the requirement for a work or
business visa may turn to claims for asylum as they anticipate
that the process to determine the genuineness of their application
will be held up for a long time due to backlogs in the system.
While they are waiting for the decision on their requests for
asylum, they are permitted to engage in economic activities.
This particular immigration problem is of serious concern to
politicians who struggle to address it, but this does not warrant
making statements that incite and fuel xenophobic violence such as
we’ve seen on several occasions.
The ongoing xenophobic attacks can be prevented. But for this to
happen, people will have to change their perceptions of economic
migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are trying to create a
better future for themselves and their children in South Africa.
Several of our politicians refer to immigrants, especially those
living in townships or working in the informal sector, as “illegal
foreigners”. They also use the influx of economic migrants as an
excuse to justify the country’s failure to deliver on the promise
of a “better life for all”, especially to those still trapped in
abject poverty, unemployment and intolerable living conditions.
Immigrants are loosely blamed for society’s ills and accused of
committing violent crimes and stealing jobs from locals despite
the lack of evidence to support such perceptions.
Such attitudes fuel xenophobia and send a message to South
Africans that all immigrants have no right to stay, work or do
business in the country.
We’ve seen how this has led to the looting of immigrants’ shops
and the maiming or injuring, and even killing of innocent people.
Little or nothing is done to compensate those whose shops have
been looted or to pay for damages for pain and suffering in
situations where immigrants were physically, and seriously,
injured or lost their loved ones. Little is done to investigate
these crimes and bring the perpetrators to book. There is also no
political will to hold accountable those involved in perpetrating
discrimination, hate speech and xenophobic violence. This
highlights the government’s failure to accept and admit the
existence of xenophobia.
It doesn’t help that the voices of immigrants are always missing
from political discussions and debates where the concerns of
citizens are communicated to the government; where the government
accounts for or is held accountable on immigration; or where
citizens participate in the decision-making processes concerning
the improvement of the well-being of immigrants. Accordingly,
immigrants lack any political muscle as decisions affecting them
are taken in their absence.
We saw this play out in 2017 when the government tightened its
refugee laws with a view to restricting the right of asylum
seekers to work and study. According to the 2017 Refugee Amendment
Act, asylum seekers do not deserve to live in communities, but
should remain in processing centres which NGOs have compared to
detention centres. It is argued that this arrangement would remove
their need to work or study.
Restrictions on the rights to work and study were further
tightened in the draft refugee regulations for the act published
in 2018.
We’ve also seen how a lack of political muscle played out in the
Covid-19 regulations when refugees and asylum seekers were not
only excluded from accessing most socio-economic relief packages,
but were also restricted from engaging in the economy after
lockdown. This sent a further message to communities that refugees
and asylum seekers do not belong and this, no doubt, contributed
to the rise in current xenophobic attacks.
It is not disputed that South Africa has the right to self-
preservation, but this imposes on it the duty to admit or expel
immigrants or asylum seekers only in such cases and upon such
conditions as it has determined in terms of immigration and
refugee law.
The ongoing xenophobic attacks can be prevented. But for this to
happen, people will have to change their perceptions of economic
migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are trying to create a
better future for themselves and their children in South Africa.
Politicians, in particular, should play their part by refraining
from making statements that incite xenophobic violence and by
relying on the appropriate legal mechanisms that exist to address
immigration and refugee-related problems. The government has
sufficient policing entities that can enforce its regulations in a
non-violent manner.
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