There is a need to develop policies and a legislative framework that will impact positively on the legal and social protection of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, said the Home Affairs Director-General Mkuseli Apleni during an event to commemorate World Refugee Day (WRD) in Pretoria.
His department is finalising a process whereby refugees will be able to apply for their documents at any Home Affairs office throughout the country.
“We remain committed to securing the legal protection of refugees as provided under international law, and recognised in our entrenched Bill of Rights,” he said.
Apleni said refugees, like South Africans, will be able to apply for smart ID cards.
To foster social cohesion amongs all people in SA
“Part of the reason we are taking these important measures is to foster social cohesion among all people living in South Africa – irrespective of race, creed, gender or nationality,” he said.
Apleni also emphasized the need to promote educational programmes, inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogues to communities to dispel the myth and misunderstandings that may exist between the different groups.
Faith-based organisations and civil society to play active role in unification
He called on civil society institutions and all faith-based organisations to play an active role in unifying South Africans and foreign nationals or refugees.
“Together with the UNHRC [United Nations Human Rights Council] and other stakeholders, we will make special efforts to continue pursuing interventions aimed at promoting social cohesion,” he said.
South Africa joined the rest of the world in marking WRD. The partnership between the Department of Home Affairs and the UNHCR dates back to 1993 following the signing of a watershed Memorandum of Understanding aimed at formalising the refugee system in the country, in keeping with international law.
Celebrate courage and resilience
On WRD, the international community seeks to draw attention to the plight of refugees and celebrate their courage and resilience.
Also speaking at today’s event — held under the theme ‘Share your Refugee Story – Celebrating 20 Years of Freedom and Democracy’ — was UNHCR Regional Representative, Clementine Nkweta-Salami, who said steps must be taken to promote social cohesion in communities affected by violence.
“The UNHCR stands ready to support government in its efforts to promote social cohesion.
Increased efforts needed to ensure refugee rights are respected
“The government of South Africa adopted one of the best refugee legislations in the world, in terms of refugee rights. Increased efforts need to be undertaken to ensure these rights are respected,” she said.
Nkweta-Salami commended the Department of Home Affairs for taking steps to address the country’s overwhelmed asylum system.
“Having a functioning system is crucial to ensuring that those displaced by violence and conflict are able to receive protection,” she said.
Every 15 minutes a family is forced into flight
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the coming into force of the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.
According to United Nations, more than 50 million people are currently displaced by war and violence, some 33.3 million in their own country and some 16.7 million as refugees, mostly in neighbouring countries.
Last year alone, more than 10 million people were newly displaced; every 15 minutes, one family was forced into flight.
Most of the world’s refugees – 86% – live in the developing world, compared to 70% 10 years ago.