Vice President of PAP, Hon. Chief FZ Charumbira
UNHCR Regional Director for Southern Africa, Mr Valentin Tabsoba
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Allow me, first and foremost, to extend my appreciation to the 4th Vice President of the African Parliament, Hon. Chief FZ. Charumbira, and his staff, for allowing us to host this year’s commemoration of World Refugee Day at this historical site, the Pan African Parliament.
It is fitting for us to converge on these premises to commemorate World Refugee Day, and to celebrate the resilience of thousands of fellow Africans who had survived the pain and anguish of forced displacement in their countries.
The Pan African Parliament brings to mind the long road, as Africans, we had travelled, in pursuit of peace, human rights, freedom and justice.
Your being here testifies to our longing for the simple things in life – to live, to belong, to be at peace, to raise children in supportive and familiar environments.
Often what we long for, is a walk in the park, a breath of fresh air, free from war and the warring of nations.
When we assemble in gatherings of this nature, we should constantly remind ourselves of the noble call to silence the guns, and to roll-back the frontiers of conflict, persecution and human rights violations that underlie the forced displacement of people, on our continent, and elsewhere in the world.
The masses of the people of our continent who have survived centuries of colonialism and racial segregation, look at this august house of representatives of Africans for their hopes and for their dreams of a humane and truly liberated Africa.
And thus this gesture, of commemorating this important day, World Refugee Day, on these premises, the Pan African Parliament, should serve to remind us of the commitment we had made to all our people, to build a better Africa, in a better world.
If not for ourselves, then, a better world we should build for generations of Africans to come. For Africa, this is the best place to mark the Year of Refugees, with refugee communities.
South Africa remains indebted to the people of our continent for allowing us to host the Pan African Parliament, and, importantly, for having hosted us, across the continent, when once we were ourselves refugees fleeing from persecution, political oppression and apartheid repression.
We are grateful to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and the African Peer Review Mechanism for partnering with the Pan African Parliament and the Department of Home Affairs in hosting the 2019 World Refugee Day, under the theme: “The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”. Thank you!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is a very important year in the calendar of the African Union, its institutions, the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the Member States.
This year marks the momentous celebrations of the 1969 OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa.
The year also marks the tenth anniversary of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of the Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, better known as the Kampala Convention.
The African Union Summit of Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier this year, also declared 2019 as “The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”.
But, over and above commitments that had been made over the years, what our people really want are durable solutions to forced displacement and exile.
How we felt as refugees, as displaced persons in Africa, was movingly described by ANC President in exile, President Oliver Tambo in 1986, at the Swedish People’s Parliament against Apartheid, in Stockholm. What Tambo said on that day would resonate with experiences of refugee communities here with us today. Tambo said:
“Having wept for too long, our mothers have no more tears to shed for those who have fallen. Having carried dead bodies much too often, the young have lost all fear of death. We have learnt from the experience of a generation that to guarantee life itself we need justice and peace. To achieve that objective, we must eradicate the source of iniquity, repression and war in our country and region…”
And this is the call together we must make, for justice and peace to prevail.
The South African Government aligns itself with the rest of our continent in the conviction that these engagements we have and the very milestones we mark and commemorate, should serve as a stepping stone towards the realization of durable solutions and addressing the plight of the displaced on the continent.
South Africa is currently host to over 119, 007 refugees. In 2018 a further 1, 594 persons were granted refugee status.
Since 1998, South Africa has granted permanent residence status to over 6,000 refugees, all of whom have the opportunity to obtain full citizenship.
These endeavours are a part of South Africa’s contribution to international protection and the reassurance of our spirit of Ubuntu and unflinching commitment to the core values of multilateralism.
Over the recent years, the Government of South Africa, through the Department of Home Affairs, has invested in improving services at our refugee reception centers best to affirm the dignity of those who have been displaced in their own countries.
We have enhanced efficiencies in processing asylum seekers, as you would have seen, for instance at Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Centre. We have also introduced self-service Automated Booking Terminals, as well as new and efficient IT related innovations, to improve the manner in which we receive those who seek help.
Part of the new approach in handling protracted refugee situations, is forging partnerships with the whole of society, in keeping with the New York Declaration adopted by Heads of State and Government in New York, in September 2017.
In this regard, South Africa welcomes and appreciates the efforts made by the UNHCR in forging partnerships with the World Bank, the private sector, civil society organizations and host communities. I believe, these partnerships will go a long way in dealing with refugee situations across the continent and the world over.
This year’s Refugee Day celebration includes, as a highlight, a panel discussion by esteemed and well-vested panelists from a variety of sectors of our society. All of us are guaranteed to benefit from their vast knowledge and commitment to development across sectors.
The special highlight of the panel discussion, and of this event, is the testimony of Doctor Egide Ndayishimiye, a refugee from Rwanda, who against all odds, had managed to escape and find sanctuary in this country.
Today, Doctor Ndayishimiye, a fully-fledged medical doctor, makes a huge contribution in changing lives of his patients in this country.
He is testimony that through hard work and determination, people always prosper; that the human spirit, always triumphs.
This I must emphasize. This day should remind us that the struggle for the creation of a better Africa and a better world is not over. More still needs to be done.
On behalf of the South African Government, I wish you all a successful, happy and fulfilling World Refugee Day.
One Africa, One Voice!