I would like to thank the civil society formations gathered here today for availing yourselves to participate in the policy process.

Many of you have participated in the roundtables we have held throughout the policy development process, over the last two years and your inputs have been and will continue to be important.

We see the policy process as an opportunity to build consensus on a “whole-of-government, whole-of-society” approach to managing international migration.

The issues involved have significant moral, political, economic and social implications.

They touch on fundamental matters of human rights, freedoms, dignity and opportunities.

The Department of Home Affairs is mandated to manage immigration to ensure security, promote development and fulfil our international obligations.

South Africa last articulated policy on international migration 17 years ago with the 1999 White Paper, with resulting legislation including, notably, the Immigration Act of 2002 and subsequent amendments.

During this time, there have been legislative and regulatory changes, but no comprehensive review of policy.

We argue that South Africa should embrace international migration for development.

The Green Paper contends that it is neither desirable nor possible to stop international migration.

International migration is a natural, largely positive phenomenon – which if well managed – can, does and will make a crucial contribution to growing our economy and transforming Africa as envisioned in Agenda 2063.

The paper sets forth some core principles which should inform our nation’s management of international migration.

Firstly, SA has a sovereign right to manage international migration in its national interests.

The national interests of SA should be defined in accordance with constitutional principles, socio-economic development objectives and national security.

We must manage international migration in a way which promotes human rights, advances the National Development Plan, takes into consideration our circumstances and resource constraints, and ensures all persons residing in South Africa – citizens and foreign nationals alike – are and feel safe.

The question, however, is, how do we ensure that ordinary citizens can also realise the positive contribution of international migration in an environment where every day they are fed stories about the negative impact of this process.

What must immigrants do to ensure that South Africans do realise the positive role, contribution and impact you have on South African society in terms of development, security and the rule of law, social cohesion and integration of South Africa into the African and global community of nations?

Immigration, in particular, becomes difficult to manage if the nationals of the country see it as a burden rather than benefit; when they feel the process is not credible and the systems cannot be trusted and doubt if the immigrants got their documents properly.

Secondly, South Africa’s international migration policy must be oriented towards Africa.

International migration policy must speak to a nation’s foreign policy.

Our foreign policy throughout the democratic period, has recognised South Africa as an integral part of the African continent, and our national interest as being inextricably linked to Africa’s stability, unity and prosperity.

South Africa is committed to regional economic integration, and people-centred development.

We are an enthusiastic supporter of Agenda 2063 as formulated by the African Union Commission.

Our international migration policy must speak to all of these aspects of our foreign policy.

In this way, therefore, the new policy must be futuristic in approach and respond to future rather than today’s challenges if it must be enduring.

Thirdly, South Africa’s international migration policy must contribute to nation building and social cohesion.

As mentioned earlier, the migration policy shapes the future composition of the South African population.

We must expand our narrow conceptions of who is a South African, previously confined to black, white, Indian or coloured people as defined by the Apartheid state, to include new South Africans originating from all over Africa and the world.

We must expand our discourse on nation building and social cohesion to recognize the enormous social and economic contributions of immigrants in our country, and welcome and integrate them into our communities, mindful of their immense contribution to deepening our cultural diversity as well as enhancing humanity and humaneness as a people.

This has implications for both South Africans, who must be welcoming of foreign nationals and help integrate them into South African society and communities, as well as immigrants themselves, who must participate and help uplift South Africans.

Fourth, South Africa’s international migration policy must enable South Africans living abroad to contribute to national development priorities.

This is a critical point!

If you listen to South Africans discuss immigration, you would be forgiven to think this was a one way phenomenon, of foreigners coming to South Africa.

Hundreds of thousands of South Africans travel, live and work abroad for various lengths of time.

Not only must we think of ways to leverage our diaspora, but we must ensure we treat guests in our country the way we would like to be treated, not ifbut when, we ourselves travel abroad.

Finally, the efficient and secure management of international migration is the responsibility of individual countries, all countries collectively as well as regional structures.

International migration is a phenomenon with profound implications for all areas of government and society.

Its effective management likewise requires a ‘whole-of-government, whole-of-society’ approach.

Furthermore, and in order the better and more effectively to manage this process, there is a need for regional and global collaboration, for all countries to share resources, knowledge, data as well as responsibilities in the interests of migrants.

On the domestic level, the policy attempts to set out the responsibilities of the state, civil society partners, individual citizens and foreign nationals living in SA with regard to migration.

We think the interests of all stakeholders are better served by us interacting on these issues in good faith.

Too often we stand in our respective corners, convinced of our own perspective, engaging as adversaries in the media and in the courts.

Sometimes this may be unavoidable, but certainly we think the policy development process is a unique opportunity to build consensus on key issues in the management of international migration.

We anticipate that issues of asylum seekers, refugees and human rights generally will be the focus of today’s discussions.

Just three months ago, we were here at the Catholic Archdiocese commemorating World Refugee Day.

As we did then, we reiterate today that South Africa is committed to offering sanctuary to refugees, a matter which for us is not merely an international obligation, but a moral imperative.

It is an expression of our foreign policy which seeks to build a better Africa and a better world.

It flows from our own national memory and historic experience as victims of oppression and state violence.

Therefore our commitment to refugees is unwavering, and the challenge before us is to figure out what is the best way to discharge our mandate.

The Green Paper has provided long-awaited direction on improving our nation’s management of asylum seekers and refugees.

As many here will know, we are of the view that genuine refugees have been disadvantaged by economic migrants using the asylum seeker system to regularize their stay in South Africa.

Because our system is based on administrative justice and careful attention paid to each request for asylum, our asylum seeker management system has come under huge strain.

Genuine refugees have accordingly suffered long waits for status determination.

Because the state could not guarantee support for asylum seekers during these long waits, jurisprudence has directed that asylum seekers be permitted to work, study or start businesses.

This has had the unintended consequence of making the asylum seekers permit a de facto special work visa for economic migrants who are unable or unwilling to obtain visas through the mainstream immigration system.

This undermines rational and effective immigration management, and harms genuine refugees as South Africans lose trust in the asylum seeker management system.

While, the Department of Home Affairs has implemented operational improvements to bring down wait times, policy intervention is long overdue.

The policy seeks to implement a more rational asylum seeker management system, based on our assessment of required improvement as well as international best practice.

It also seeks to make the asylum seeker process less attractive to economic migrants.

Broadly, it proposes to process the claims of asylum seekers closer to the ports of entry where asylum seekers enter the republic, at designated processing centers.

I want to emphasize that these are not detention centers, and we are not proposing an encampment policy.

Processing centres are centres where asylum seekers will be accommodated during the status determination process.

These centres will be open to civil society for observation and provision of basic services to asylum seekers.

This will assist the country to provide services to asylum seekers in a humane and secure manner.

The rationale here is that as soon as an asylum seeker enters the country, we should accomplish the following three things, as efficiently as possible.

  • Firstly, we must definitively establish their identity, as often they may not have identity documents,
  • Secondly, we must determine whether they should be recognized as refugees, within a prescribed period of weeks or months and
  • Finally, we must ensure they are provided with food, shelter, and any required health care or social services.           

Some of you have already begun to raise concerns about the new policy, which I hope we will begin to air and address today.

But I would like to emphasize a few points upfront.

South Africa is a constitutional democracy and our government is committed to upholding the Constitution.

We will test the International Migration policy against the Constitution before finalizing and proposing it for adoption by cabinet in the form of a white paper.

Any element of a policy that is found to be unconstitutional will be dropped.

Our international commitments include the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1951 Convention on Refugees.

It is not envisaged that the new policy will lead to the denunciation of the Convention.

The new policy does not intend to irrationally limit the freedom of movement for all categories of asylum seekers.

Only asylum seekers that are identified as posing security threat will be temporarily restricted.

This is international practice for countries that do not have camps including Canada and many EU countries.

The majority of asylum seekers come from SADC countries and most of them are economic migrants.

The green paper proposes various measures to deal with economic migration from SADC, important for its own sake, with the additional benefit of aiding asylum seeker management.

The refugee status is not a permanent status, and so it is inappropriate to link eligibility for permanent residence and citizenship to years spent in the country as a refugee.

The policy proposes that refugees can apply for permanent residence, but on the grounds of skills, business activity, financial independence, or marriage to a South African citizen.

One of the most important messages in the new International Migration policy is the call for a whole of state, whole of society approach.

By this we mean that civil society organisations must play an active role in the management of international migration.

We hope you will take this opportunity to intervene on how you best see yourselves playing a role as we go forward.

We look forward to honest, robust discussion.

We are committed to listening to your perspectives, and seeing how we can incorporate these to enrich the draft policy.

I thank you.