Migration Policy, Deputy Minister on Electoral Bill: briefing

Home Affairs

17 April 2000
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Meeting report

HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
18 April 2000
BRIEFING BY DEPUTY MINISTER

SUMMARY
Following today's meeting of the Portfolio Committee, the process around migration policy making has been clarified. Mr Mokoena (Chairperson) stated in no uncertain terms, that the consultation process to be conducted by the committee will be limited to the White Paper on International Migration, and will not include the Draft Immigration Bill. The consultation process will include three days of briefings to be conducted at Parliament May 16, 17 and 19, followed by a provincial tour that will consist of public hearings in the capitals of five provinces.

Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs briefed the committee prior to her secondment for a period of six months to overlook the emergency reconstruction of roads and houses as a result of the flooding. She denied that there was any truth to the allegations put forth in the media about the Department's treatment of refugees. She stated emphatically that the raids in Hillbrow were intended as a crack down on criminal activity in the area and was not a raid on illegal immigrants.

The Department had received a request from the Independent Electoral Commission to amend the Electoral Bill of 1998 so that people who are imprisoned or awaiting trial at the time of a municipal election will not be allowed to vote. Ms Sisulu urged the committee to amend the Bill.

MINUTES
The meeting was primarily scheduled for a briefing by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Ms Sisula. Due to a delay in her arrival, time was spent discussing other work facing the committee. Mr Mokoena (Chairperson) addressed the issue of the White Paper on International Migration.

White Paper on International Migration
The Chair stated that he was committed to holding public hearings on the White Paper to ensure that a transparent and participatory process took place. The White Paper on International Migration had previously been tabled to the committee without being discussed in Parliament. Mr Mokoena said that the public consultation process to be conducted by the Portfolio Committee will be limited to a discussion of the White Paper. The Draft Migration Bill will not be discussed until the white paper process has been completed. This will allow for possible amendments to be made that result from the public hearings.

The proposed public consultation process includes briefings to be conducted at Parliament on May 16, 17, and 19 followed by a "roadshow" that will consist of public meetings held in the capitals of Gauteng, Northern Province, North-West, Kwazulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga. Dates have yet to be set for the provincial tours.

Briefing by Deputy Minister
Ms Sisulu briefed the committee on three issues. The crime reduction operation that occurred in Hillbrow, and proposed changes to both the Identification Bill and the Electoral Bill.

Crime Reduction (Hillbrow)
Ms Sisulu felt it necessary to respond to the allegations in the media regarding the Department's treatment of refugees, as a result of the raids that took place in the Hillbrow area. She defended the Refugees Bill as being one of the most democratic bills of its kind, arguing that it clearly separates the rights that are granted to persons seeking political asylum, and those who are in South Africa illegally. She was critical of the media who had failed to recognize the distinction.

Ms Sisulu stated that the raid in Hillbrow was not aimed at illegal immigrants, but rather at targeting criminal activity. The raid was part of a 32 point strategy on crime reduction administered by the security cluster. The raid uncovered a factory that was manufacturing fraudulent Section 41 permits (granted to people seeking refugee status). The Department of Home Affairs was brought in to determine which of those arrested were in possession of the fraudulent documents. On the first day of the raid, 741 of the 1700 people arrested were found to be holding fraudulent documents.

Ms Sisulu admitted that many refugees had been wrongly arrested, but that every effort had been made to apologize to them. She dismissed the allegation that the raid specifically targeted blacks, saying it was unfortunate that the majority of those arrested were black. She further dismissed allegations that officers had destroyed documentation that those arrested had held.

Ms Sisulu stated that they had received complaints about the treatment of the refugees from the Human Rights Commission based on the allegations in the media. As a result of these allegations, the media had been invited to ensure "maximum transparency" of the process.

In the upcoming year, the Department will be proposing, under the Refugee Act, that centres be set up to aid those entering South Africa seeking asylum. The centres will provide food, shelter, and medical aid while the claims are being processed. A document will be issued to verify that theses people are refugees.

Identification Bill
Ms Sisulu stated that the Department would be working towards making the green identification documents compulsory for all South Africans. This would include refugees, whose identification number will reflect their status. It will also be proposed that South Africa "white-list" certain countries whose citizens would be allowed to seek asylum in South Africa. Further clarification on this process will be forthcoming.

Electoral Bill
The Department had received a request from the Independent Electoral Commission to amend the Electoral Bill of 1998. It has been proposed that the Bill be amended so that people who are imprisoned or awaiting trial at the time of a municipal election will not be allowed to vote. The IEC has argued it is logistically impossible for people awaiting trial or in prison in other areas of the country to vote in municipal elections. Since municipal ballots are different in every municipality it was thought to be too difficult to distribute the ballots to prisoners who are being held in prisons around the country. As a result, it has been proposed that those in prison and those awaiting trial should not be allowed to vote. Currently, there are 314 different ballots in the municipal elections. The Constitutional Court has advised the Department that these measures must be included in the legislation.

Discussion
Mr Waters (DP) asked how the Department would be able to implement the Refugee Act since they had been only allocated R5 million of the requested R15 million?

Ms Sisulu responded that she was hoping the committee would fight to get the Department the additional funding. The funding is necessary to ensure the proper implementation of the Act, since it is a blueprint for the world on the proper method of handling refugees.

In response to this, the Chair called for the committee to take a more pro-active role in assisting the Department. He said that the Department will be invited to make representations on what funding is required, so that the portfolio committee can submit a report to Parliament outlining the reasons and urgency for more funds.

The DP questioned the Department on whether they would be able to produce the estimated two million identification booklets needed for the elections before August?

Ms Sisulu stated that the Department had no choice but to cope with the demand. She reiterated the importance for all South Africans to have one common form of identification. It is expected that 97% of South Africans have green identification booklets. The Department will be specifically targeting schools, since it is expected that most of those that do not have the required document are in schools. Ms Sisulu called on MPs to help their constituents to attain the required documents.

Mr Sikakane (ANC) asked if new legislation was required to deal with illegal aliens?

Ms Sisulu said the existing legislation was sufficient, and the Department was aware of the steps that had to be taken.

Mr Smith (IFP) asked for clarity on the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act of 1998?

Ms Sisulu replied that the proposed amendment resulted from the impossibility of distributing ballots to people outside of their district. The task of allowing people to vote on a different day or in a different municipality was too large a task for the Department to handle. For this reason, the Department was urging the committee to amend the bill, so that those in prison, and those awaiting trial would not be allowed to vote.

An ANC member asked if the Department would be laying criminal charges for those persons who were in possession of fraudulent documents? Ms Sisulu stated the Department had not considered pressing charges since it would be too time consuming and expensive. The individuals are being repatriated.

The Deputy Minister announced that she will be leaving the Department of Home Affairs for a period of six months to overlook the emergency reconstruction of roads and houses for displaced persons as a result of the flooding.

The meeting was adjourned.

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