Meeting SummaryThe presentation given by the Department of Home Affairs looked at the Asylum Seeker Management mandate, the rights of refugees and the grants awarded to various categories of refugees which included grants for the aged, the disabled, foster care, care dependency grant and the child support grant. It outlined the role of the Department in facilitating access to social assistance by refugees.
Nine challenges were identified for Home Affairs in fulfilling this role of facilitating access to grants by refugees. These included refugees struggling to produce child’s birth certificate; parents who were not in possession of an ID document at the time of the child’s birth; would not have an ID number on the birth certificate; foreign children were issued a birth certificate without an ID number; children of refugees often bore a surname different from the one of their parents; refugees were not registered in the Department of Labour UIF database; thus SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) employees could not accurately verify their income and employment history; business processes especially between civics and Asylum Seekers Management were not well sequenced to minimise fraudulent practices; various databases needed to be utilised to obtain accurate information not easily accessible or integrated; the provision of social assistance to refugees could act as a pull factor to South Africa thus exerting more pressure on limited resources and capacity.
Nine strategies were identified as a way forward. These included negotiations with SASSA to harmonise procedures and criteria requirements to ensure access by eligible refugees; ensure online verification at SASSA through biometrics to verify identity of refugee claiming the grant; raise awareness of SASSA staff, especially front office workers, on the profile of refugees as beneficiaries to social assistance and its implications; fast track the finalisation of the Regulations of the amended Refugees Act; enhance and integrate Department Home Affairs information systems and business processes to better serve refugees; improve the credibility of the face value documents issued by ASM; strengthen vertical and horizontal coordination and cooperation amongst stakeholders on access to social assistance by refugees; improve the effectiveness of the status determination system; development and implementation of a regional strategy to manage secondary movements.
Members asked about illegal businesses owned by asylum seekers and refugees, how many refugees were not of African descent, how the Department stopped abuses of the system, refugees moving back and forth between South Africa and their country of birth, the transport of corpses, why persons in old age homes and special schools were not given grants, what happened to those who did not register the birth of a child within 14 days, the registration of children with different surnames to the people claiming to be their parents, if refugees were to receive ID cards, if refugees knew where to apply for extensions, people in mining areas without identification and the SA Human Rights Commission’s perception of South Africa.
Members mentioned that children from other countries were placing added pressure on the already strained resources for South African children. They requested user-friendly information for their constituencies. Information needed to be provided by province and asked about the large numbers of foreigners in some metropolitan areas.
Department of Home Affairs contribution to prepare for social assistance provision to refugees
Ms Lindile Kgasi, Chief Director: Asylum Seekers Management in the Department of Home Affairs, outlined the Asylum Seeker Management (ASM) mandate given to the Department in terms of the Refugee Act 130 of 1998. She spoke about the grants refugees were eligible for and what were the qualifying criteria and supporting documents for: • Grants for the aged, • Grants for the disabled, • Foster care child grant, • Care dependency grant, • Child support grant (see document).
Ms Kgasi discussed the role of Home Affairs in facilitating access to grants by refugees. She then identified the challenges for Home Affairs in fulfilling this role, which were:
• Refugees often struggled to produce child’s birth certificate (due to factors such as sudden flight, disruption of public order in country of origin)
• Parents who were not in possession of an ID document at the time of child’s birth would not have ID number on the birth certificate
• The foreign child was issued a birth certificate without an ID number
• Children of refugees often bore a surname different from the one of their parents
• A Section 24 permit expired after four years. ‘Expiry date’ of a Refugee Status document did not indicate the date upon which the person ceased to be a refugee, but the date on which the refugee needed to extend his/her paper
• Refugees were not registered in the Department of Labour UIF database, thus SASSA employees cannot accurately verify their income and employment history.
• Business processes especially between civics and ASM were not well sequenced to minimise fraudulent practices
• Various databases needed to be utilised to obtain accurate information sources not easily accessible or integrated
• Provision of social assistance to refugees could act as a pull factor to Republic of South Africa thus exerting more pressure on the limited resources and capacity.
The way forward had many strategies including:
• Negotiations with SASSA to harmonise procedures and criteria requirements to ensure access by eligible refugees.
• Ensure online verification at SASSA through biometrics to verify identity of refugee claiming the grant.
• Raise awareness of SASSA staff, especially front office workers, on the profile of refugees as beneficiaries to social assistance and its implications
• Fast track the finalisation of the Regulations of the amended Refugees Act
• Enhance and integrate Department Home Affairs (DHA) information systems and business processes to better serve refugees
• Improve the credibility of the face value documents issued by ASM
• Strengthen vertical and horizontal coordination and cooperation amongst critical stakeholders around issues of access to social assistance by refugees
• Improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the status determination system
• Development and implementation of a regional strategy to manage secondary movements.
Ms Kgasi stated that refugee status was not a permanent status and there was a need for them to return to their country of origin. There was a need to look at what had pushed them out, thus there was a need for cooperation with other countries. South Africa had a ‘non-encampment’ policy which meant that refugees were to be involved in sustainable activity within the Republic.
Refugee illegal businesses
The Chairperson asked about refugees running businesses that were not registered with South African Revenue Service (SARS), how did the Department handle these cases?
Ms B Mnube (Gauteng, ANC) asked about the asylum seekers who established businesses and abused the process of asylum.
Ms Kgasi replied that when the Act was passed in 1998, the number of refugees was 11 135. However, in 2009 there were 207 000 in that year alone. The number increased again in 2010. A United Nations summit had admitted that South Africa was a main destination for asylum seekers and it had the highest number globally. This meant there was a challenge of people coming into the country, not because they needed asylum, but because they wanted to come and work. There were many in the country illegally who then claimed rights. There was a difference between refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees were registered and would present themselves to Home Affairs. Due to the non-encampment policy the country had, these people had entered communities and were finding means of making money. This meant that they often partnered with South Africans in business ventures that were not legal. This challenged how the government structures worked especially the Departments of Trade and Industry and Home Affairs. Within the townships, there were many unregistered businesses and this is what caused trouble. She urged Members to look into the organisations that were aiding this in terms of various grants. In areas where there were limited resources, conflict often arose in the form of what was then termed ‘xenophobia’ which it was not, it was merely tensions. There was a need for South Africa to figure out the implications of refugees. There was a need to raise the awareness of people within South Africa as to what refugees were entitled to. She had encountered South Africans who had said that they did not know anything about refugees and from where they had come. There was a need to inform people. There was a need for a concentrated effort to inform communities.
Non African Refugees
The Chairperson asked how many European and American refugees there were as the focus was on Africans.
Ms Kgasi replied that there were a lot of other foreign nationals within the borders but the levels were not as high as African foreign nationals. She said that the camps in other countries surrounding South Africa emptied their refugee camps into South Africa.
Measures to stop abuses
The Chairperson asked what measures had been put in place to stop abuses of the system
Ms Kgasi replied that South Africa was a fertile ground for misconduct. There had been a large array of actors involved. A unit had been established at Deputy Director General level that looked to counter corruption and it was working very well. The high numbers allowed for many instances of corruption. The Department was working very hard to ensure the system was credible as credibility affected the ability to protect those who needed protection. There was also a need to disseminate proper information about what South Africa was offering refugees so people did not try to misuse the system.
Return to country of origin
Ms D Rantho (Eastern Cape, ANC) asked if a person had been in the country more than five years were they allowed to go back to their country of origin and if they returned to South Africa, would they have to apply for refugee status again?
Ms Kgasi replied that once someone returned to their country their refugee status was withdrawn as now the person could be protected by their country.
Other children escalating problems
Ms Rantho said that children coming in to South Africa would escalate the problems faced by the children within the country.
Transportation of corpses
Ms Rantho asked if Home Affairs transferred refugee corpses back to their home country.
Ms Kgasi said that the Department did not transport corpses to the countries of origin.
Report on monitoring refugee reception offices
Mr M De Villiers (Western Cape, DA) asked for the report on monitoring refugee reception offices be given to the Committee.
Ms Kgasi replied that the monitoring that was done did not come in a report but daily work was done to ensure cases were finalised within six months and according to standard operating procedures.
Grants for those in Special Schools and Old Age Homes
Ms Rantho asked why children in special schools could not receive a grant – as needing to go to a special school was not of their or their parents making.
Mr De Villiers asked why people in homes for the aged were not given the grant. Usually homes for the aged used that money to administrate the old age home.
Ms Kgasi said all the old age homes that were government-owned were paid for by government. SASSA did not pay the whole amount as some of it was paid to the old age home, this was the same with the special schools.
Registration within 14 Days
Mr De Villiers asked what happened if the parent registered the child after 14 days.
Ms Kgasi replied that all South Africans were expected to register their children within 30 days and refugees were expected to register their births within 14 days. If a foreign national came in they would have to write a letter saying they had lived within the Republic for five years and state why, then request to become a refugee indefinitely. The country of origin was then consulted to see if this was necessary. Getting an extension was not automatic. Refugees could not retain that status indefinitely especially with the change of situation within their home countries.
Mr De Villiers asked what the Department did to find the connection between the parents and children who had different surnames. There had to be work done by the Department to certify information. What happened to the child during the time the difference in surnames was identified and credibility of the situation was established?
Ms Kgasi replied that the issue of surnames was a difficult one as it needed the participation of international and national actors for example the International Social Service (ISS) and the Red Cross (in terms of tracing). Tracing took time. What the Department did was to issue an affidavit which allowed for registration whilst the tracking process went on. The Department relied on various NGOs to aid with tracing from where the child came. There had been cases in which people had abused this and there had been instances of child trafficking.
ID cards and documents for refugees
Mr W Faber (Northern Cape, DA) asked if the identification document was to be under the new ID card system? Was the ID book system to continue or would the focus be on ID cards.
Ms Kgasi replied that it had taken the Department a long time to issue refugees the ID digits. The ID card was focused on nationals and once this was perfected then it could be applied to this other category. The focus was on the ID digit at the moment.
Ms Mncube asked for clarification on various acronyms.
Ms Kgasi replied that NIIS stood for National Immigration Integrated System. This was the information system that was used for refugees and asylum seekers. This was where they were registered.
Application for extension
The Chairperson asked if people knew where to apply for the extension?
Ms Kgasi replied that the refugee status would be counted from the time the person obtained refugee status. The person would then continually return to the Refugee Reception Office to declare themselves and renew their permits. There had been court order to close various Refugee Reception Offices including the one in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth due to the ‘nuisance factor’. This had left only three Refugee Reception Offices which took new cases. The offices had been unable to handle the large numbers that came in which meant that people tended to hang about. Refugees had all the rights except the right to vote. The ID documents stated that the person carrying it was in fact a refugee.
Ms Kgasi said there was no way South Africa could manage refugees and asylum seekers without the cooperation of the countries in the region. The strategy was three-pronged as it was focused nationally, bilaterally and multilaterally.
User friendly information
The Chairperson said she had not seen information on this from the Department that was user friendly that Members could walk their communities through. The Committee would appreciate something like that from the Department.
Ms Kgasi replied that the suggestion was appreciated. Within the Chief Directorate there was a directive that dealt with stakeholder management. However this was still pending as the Director would come on board only on 3 October 2012.
Ms M Makgate (North West, ANC) asked how the Department dealt with people in mining areas who were not registered on the system and did not have ID documents. Was it possible to have political intervention?
Ms Kgasi replied there was a need for political discussion, she however was a technocrat. The Minister had embarked on a drive to document Zimbabweans. This showed that there were avenues that could be taken at a political level. The miners had come into South Africa as Basotho citizens and South Africa could not unilaterally decide that they were South African citizens. This would possibly affect the relationship with Lesotho, thus there was a need for political intervention. South Africa was looking at statelessness and there was a convention on this.
Human Rights Commission perception of South Africa
Ms Makgate said she had a concern about the image that had been displayed by the SA Human Rights Council who had represented the country as being aggressive to refugees. How did the Department engage with the SAHRC so they understood the challenges involving refugees and asylum seekers?
Ms Kgasi replied that most issues handled within the realm of refugees and asylum seekers were within the notion of human rights. This meant that there was a need to interact with NGOs who advocated for refugees so that they understood the Department’s mandate, measures and mechanisms. There was the possibility they may not agree with these but they needed to understand this was what was being done. There had been forums in which there had been interactions but there were agendas that may differ and this needed to be taken into consideration. There was a need to understand what was being done. The main issue the NGO sector had at the moment was the closing of the Refugee Reception Offices. They saw this as government trying to close the space that had been created for refugees. It had been announced that the Refugee Reception Offices were to be moved towards the border and this had created uproar in the NGO sector. There was a roundtable meeting planned for 13 and 14 September and this would be a meeting that the organisations would surely come with ‘guns blazing’. The closing of the offices was a government decision and this had to be stated.
Information given in terms of provinces
Ms Rantho asked for the numbers of refugees in each province and the challenges in each province. She perceived that there would be differences according to province.
Ms Rantho said there needed to be a register of workers within South Africa who were asylum seekers and refugees. This needed to be categorised according to provinces.
The Chairperson asked if these could be given in written form.
Ms Kgasi replied that municipalities had been identified as the structures that reports really needed to be produced on. The Department was already working with the Johannesburg and Cape Town metros to find out how many refugees were living in the townships and needed access to free services, such as electricity, offered by the state. There was the hope that in identifying these issues the Department would also be able to identify the skills that these people had. This would allow for partnerships with South Africans and would allow for skills transfer. This would allow for benefits to be identified from hosting refugees instead of always calculating the costs. There were benefits. This was also a way of changing the perceptions of the communities.
High numbers of foreigners
Ms Mncube said there were a number of challenges as in some areas there were so many foreign nationals that a South African felt like a foreigner. When South Africans tried to point these challenges out then it was called ‘xenophobia.’ It seemed that when South Africans spoke about the large number of foreigners it was always seen as xenophobia.
Ms Kgasi replied that this went back to raising awareness. One had to consider what it meant to say that South Africa was now part of the global community after coming from an era of isolation. There was a need for constituencies to fully understand. The parliamentary committee system forum would be used to ensure that information was disseminated via Members of Parliament who were critical stakeholders in disseminating this information. There were a number of people within communities who were not refugees but living as ‘undocumented persons’. There were low levels of refugees in those high foreigner density areas. The question was: Was there the mechanism to deal with the mixed flow that was coming into the country?
The Chairperson said that the Committee looked forward to the requested reports. The Committee would at a later stage be calling on various NGOs and institutions dealing with the issuing of grants to refugees to have a better understanding of the grants and the procedure of issuing them.
The meeting was adjourned.
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