The rights of refugees in the Western Cape and challenges to migration: briefing by Africa Unite and Global Migration South Africa

Home Affairs

01 March 2010
Chairperson: Mr B Martins (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Africa Unite made a presentation to the Committee on human rights and the rights of refugees in the Western Cape. It spoke about its work with youth to promote human rights and bring about socio-economic development. The organisation had a number of programmes and strategies in place. The aims of the programmes were to provide training and to build human rights communities through which the rights of locals, refugees and migrants were recognised and protected. It realised that once the youth grasped the concept of human rights they would begin to look for the realisation of these rights in their lives, communities, families and places of work.

Africa Unite also felt that it did not have the support it needed from Government, and they were not proactive on issues of xenophobia. Africa Unite services were in high demand but there was a lack of resources, which did not allow them to cover all areas, as demand increased from other provinces.

Global Migration also gave a presentation on behalf of the Forum of Immigration Practitioners of South Africa, Western Cape Chapter, on challenges pertaining to work permits. They felt that regulations and legislation was unclear and that there were problems with specific issues in the Act. Changes to policy and treatment of cases were not communicated to affected parties. There was also uncertainty about the requirements for certain work permits, which caused confusion.

Corruption amongst practitioners and agents within the Department of Home Affairs was also a major issue that needed to be combated and brought to the attention of Department heads. Practitioners also needed to be regulated and monitored so that illegal transactions were not taking place.

The Committee committed itself to confronting the Department on these issues and resolving them.

Meeting report

Africa Unite Presentation
Ms Ntombi Mcoyi, Project Manager: Africa Unite, gave Members some background concerning the organisation. Africa Unite had started as a result of the conflict between youth and refugees in New Cross Roads in 2001, following the mediation meeting with 49 participants from both parties. Concerns raised by the youth group were: foreigners stealing locals’ women and jobs; the increase in poverty; high levels of unemployment; lack of foreigners’ involvement in community activities; foreigners having better living conditions than locals; and the lack of interest from Government. Due to this the local youth and refugees requested a platform where they could meet regularly and get to know each other.

With the assistance of IDASA, a Peer Education Human Rights Training programme was developed for the youth. The aim of the programme was to provide training and to build human rights communities so that all South Africans, refugees and migrants were protected. The training covered a general introduction to human rights and why it is important; the principles of human rights; the Constitution and Bill of Rights; international and national laws protecting and promoting human rights; migrants and refugees rights in SA; understanding xenophobia in communities; and facilitation skills. The training was held on weekends at Goedgedacht and each year 20-25 youths, including refugees, from different backgrounds were trained. So far 165 Youth Peer Educators had been trained.

The Human Rights Peer Education programme had achieved quite a bit in the communities. Each year 3000 people had been reached through different channels such as schools, churches, youth groups. Workshops were conducted in local languages as well as in Portuguese, French and Somalia for refugees.

Through this programme Africa Unite had made a number of observations. Firstly, there was a shocking ignorance about the Constitution among the public and local leaders. The mindset towards migrants and refugees was based on hearsay. The organisation felt that the right information would bring about a positive attitude and change. People who had the opportunity to interact with refugees and migrants in a meaningful way were also less likely to be xenophobic. However, this interaction would only succeed if they allowed for dialogue and meaningful interaction. This meant that interaction could not be coincidental but needed to be organised and facilitated.

Due to this, Africa Unite had developed Counter Xenophobic strategies to foster social cohesion in communities. This included skill transfer. The Africa Unite had used skilled refugees in teaching maths and science at Mandela High School in Old Crossroads. Some refugees came with great skills, which could be utilised. The Sisonke Saving Scheme was also developed. This involved youth from disadvantaged communities and refugees saving R3 a day to promote a culture of saving and to combat poverty. It would also initiate business ventures and share benefit. Friendly sports activities also helped bring people from different backgrounds together, as language was not an issue when it came to sport. Another strategy was youth and social dialogue, to bring youth from different backgrounds together to discuss issues they could learn from and take back to their respective schools and communities. A women’s forum was also established in 2009, to bring local and refugee women together to create a platform where they could share ideas.

The Peer Educators role within the programme and strategies was to assist in conflict mediation. Following last year’s xenophobic attacks countrywide, the educators had done a number of things to help. They organised anti-xenophobic marches; worked along with community radio programmes and newspapers to assist refugees and migrants in camps set up by the City of Cape Town. On 20 June 2008 public hearings were organised in partnership with the Portfolio Committees on Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs. They also trained refugee leaders who were living in camps and informed them on SA’s mandate towards refugees and refugee rights.

There were currently four Africa Unite programmes: Human Rights Peer Education; Orphan and vulnerable children; Life-skills for unemployed youth; and Sisonke Saving Scheme. But along with these programmes came challenges. There was a lack of support from Government and they were not proactive on issues of xenophobia. Africa Unite services were in high demand but there was a lack of resources that did not allow them to cover all areas, as demand increased from other provinces.

IDASA had been a great assistance to Africa Unite, and they would not have been able to be successful without its assistance. IDASA sat on the Africa Unite’s board and gave them office space, for free at the beginning and thereafter at a minimal cost. It also gave Africa Unite a telephone, email and fax at a low rate and provided ongoing technical support and advice on how to run an organisation. Besides IDASA, Africa Unite had a number of partners that assisted them.

Discussion
Ms H Makhuba (IFP) wanted to know what type of assistance Africa Unite was looking for from the Committee, as there were also other Committees that should be approached such as Education and Social Development.

Mr Zoe Nkongolo, Director: Africa Unite, said that he thought approaching other Committees was a good idea. Africa Unite needed to market itself and make government aware of the organisation and the work they were doing. He said that Africa Unite was not fully supported and asked that the Committee to take them under its wing and open doors for them so that they got support from Government.

Mr Z Madasa (ANC) praised Africa Unite for their work and said that it was playing a practical role in the process. He said there were serious divisions in South Africa that people did not want to face and it was also a global trend.

Ms T Gasebonwe (ANC) wanted to know how putting away R3 worked and benefited the youth.

Mr Zoe Nkongolo said that when the youth looked at the foreigners they saw people who were living a good life and they wanted to know what the foreigners were doing differently to them. The youth thought the foreigners were getting money from someone else instead of working and saving their money. The Africa Unite told them that the best thing to do was to put away R3 a day as a group, and even include the foreigners. He said that they had to remember that R3 was nothing it did not even buy a can of coke. The programme was started in 2005 and would teach the youth about saving money. This money would then go towards a business for the youth and the benefits would be split between all who put in R3 a day. The DTI liked the scheme and said they would be contributing money for the next three years. It only gave money for three months and then nothing else was received.

Ms Z Balindlela (COPE) wanted to know if Africa Unite had tackled the issue of human trafficking and drug abuse when it did youth training. The Africa Unite had also said that it was revisiting Worcester the next day and she wanted to know what lessons were learnt from what happened there.

Mr Nkongolo said in terms of tackling the issue of trafficking the Africa Unite was raising awareness in its workshops with the youth. The period during the World Cup was going to be a dangerous time for trafficking especially since children would not be in school. During that time Africa Unite was going to organise activities for youth in townships to keep them busy and off the street, which would keep them away from danger. They had put together a proposal for the Department of Social Development on this.

He said the lesson learnt in Worcester was the issue of foreigners being used as cheap labour. There was no relationship between the Zimbabweans and the local people. It was the business people who tried to divide them. In December they gave a presentation to the Mayoral Committee in Worcester and they were working in partnership with Africa Unite. They were organising a friendly soccer game between the refugees and the locals so that they could get to know each other and learn from each other.

Ms M Maunye (ANC) said it was not Government’s policy to put refugees into camps but to rather integrate them into the community and did Africa Unite think they should be in camps. She also wanted to know what effort Africa Unite was expecting from Government and for what was the money given to it from Government used.

Mr Zoe Nkongolo approached the subject of countering xenophobia. He said that in 2006 Africa Unite ran a workshop in Pretoria on combating xenophobia at Home Affairs but the problem was that it could not find out were these individuals were operating. They did not have the budget to go to these areas and help resolve the issue. Even going to Worcester was a bit of a problem because they did not have a car so they had to hire one and then they had to stay there for the night, which was costing a lot of money.

Ms P Peterson-Maduna (ANC) asked what measures Africa Unite had in place to ensure foreigners had better living conditions. She also wanted to know how effective was the youth training it was offering, because 20-25 youth a year did not seem like enough, and how many women had been trained.

Mr Zoe Nkongolo replied that the reason Africa Unite was only training 20-25 youth a year was because it was selecting youth from different areas and then it was a weekend away which costs money so it could not take more people. Selected youth were trained so that they could also train others in their communities. He said that Africa Unite succeeded in the way it worked and even their staff was made up of people from different backgrounds. They also had people in areas around the Western Cape who intervened when there were problems and in that way they succeeded.

 He reminded Members that Africa Unite’s budget constraints could not extend assistance to other areas around the country and that was an issue.

Ms Ntombi Mcoyi admitted that Africa Unite was not reaching enough people and thus were training people to be leaders in their communities. Partcipants learned to communicate with different people and got a more integrated experience. They would keep in contact with others from the training and form a network. Things could only go further if these communities could sustain the projects themselves. At the moment they are doing this work without any resources and financial support, but they are so excited about the programme that they are training people in their homes and schools. In terms of strategy Africa Unite was looking at everything from grassroots level up.

Forum of Immigration Practitioners of SA Western Cape Chapter Supported by various other Practitioners
Leon Isaacson, Managing Director, Global Migration South Africa outlined issues on which they had approached the Department of Home Affairs. The forum had asked that there was better legislation. The Forum wanted to make sure that temporary and permanent residence permits was issued as expeditiously as possible, without consuming excessive administrative capacity; that security considerations were satisfied and the State retained control over the immigration of foreigners to the country. Interdepartmental coordination and public consultations enriched the functions of immigration control. Isaacson said there had been problems with the Act/Regulations. Changes to policy and treatment of cases were not communicated to affected parties and foreign missions were often unsure of requirements for General Work Permits. The Act referred to “qualifications and experience” required but regulations did not cater properly for experience-based applications, which caused problems with interpretation at the Home Affairs offices and lead to permits expiring.

For Quota Work Permits the forum wanted to know how quota lists were compiled because there was no continuity from year to year. There was also no provision for “breaks” between employment contracts. It was deemed to be illegal if a foreigner was not continuously employed, which was not practical as people do change jobs.

The extension of work permits needed to be addressed, as it was not covered in the Act/Regulations. Requirements at different offices varied which caused delays and confusion.

There was also a problem with submissions for permanent residence applications. Home Affairs offices did not have enough staff and there were backlogs. The Department of Home Affairs was not consistent regarding the process of accepting couriered applications, which was provided for in the Act/Regulations. Further applications for these people sometimes take 6-24 months.

In terms of the Intra-Company Transfer Permit regulations regarding the four-year period, which was increased from two years, were still outstanding. The forum wanted to know what the timetable for updating it was.

Retirement Permits requirements also needed to be amended. The amount of pension/income was set at R20 000 per person when it used to be R20 000 per couple.

There were service issues and the forum had some expectations. It felt that service should be within the spirit of the preamble set out earlier in the presentation. It should be consistent from office to office and within a predictable time frame. The variation in requirements was also too subjective and should be made clear to all. Service times and follow up needed to be from two weeks to six months. Capacity at certain office was strained which lead to long queues. Senior staff was often not available and no one else was able to make decisions.

Appeals and waivers also needed to be looked at. It would take up to 12 months to finalise these and it was often a last resort process where poor decisions had been made and it was a long process. Waivers took 4-12 weeks to finalise. This consumed resources and caused delays, which in many cases was a cover up for deficiencies in the Act.

Discussion
Mr Madasa wanted to know how were practitioners monitored and what would help the Department deter corruption by practitioners and officials at Home Affairs. He also wanted to know how high fees charged for work permits were ripping people off. He wanted to know what would the solution be for this and how could the Committee help the Government.
 
Mr Leon Isaacson said that the forum was very aware of corruption. He said he wanted to make a distinction between people who called themselves agents and were not registered with the Department of Home Affairs yet they had contacts inside who helped them. Any documentation that had been obtained this way was seen as null and void. The practitioners who fell under the forum had to write an exam to make sure that they qualified for the role. If there were complaints about a practitioner being corrupt they would get fired.

The solution would entail the Department screening those practitioners who were reported to be corrupt. This was where the Committee could help. It could make sure that practitioners were regulated and identified. There should be secure areas where they were not allowed to enter and negotiate deals under the table. Mr Isaacson told Members that he had walked past the back door of one of the Home Affairs regional offices before and a staff member was letting people in through the back door. When he tried to confront her she waved him away. He reported the staff member. He said this sort of thing could corrupt a whole system. This needed to be reported to head office so that action could be taken.

The issues around fees and regulations and the code of conduct said it had to be fair. There are two types of fees; the fee you pay to apply for a permit and the second fee, a guarantee fee for the permit. People were paying a fee of R1000 or R2000 and others were paying R10 000. Someone who was paying R10 000 was probably being ripped off because the process did not require so much work from a practitioner.

The Chairperson said the example given of some people paying a R10 000 was not right, so moving ahead it would be important that they got a scale of what fees should be so that no one was ripped off.

Ms J Terblanche (DA) requested that the Committee have a meeting with the Department to discuss the issues raised in the meeting as well those from previous meetings. She said the issue of legislation needed to be a priority especially where it was misinterpreted. Members agreed with Ms Terblanche.

The Chairperson said that it was the Committee’s responsibility to look at these issues and address them. All stakeholders, the Committee, the Department and the Government had one commitment to try to resolve the issue within Home Affairs.

Meeting was adjourned.

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