Business Day, 27 March 2008

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A new report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise says the increasing number of illegal immigrants dramatises inadequacies in SA’s migration management. Coming at a time when Zimbabwe’s general election at the weekend and its potentially violent aftermath have raised the possibility of more illegal immigrants crossing into SA, the report blamed lack of leadership by SA on the issue of regional migration. However, it said the number of Zimbabweans in SA was only a third of the widely circulated figure of 3-million. Reasons for their migration to SA varied, but last year most cited unemployment as the main cause. Survey results had found that most had matriculated and more than 30% had a post-secondary education. The report said policies still made it difficult for skilled people, despite being badly needed in SA, to enter the country legally. Last month, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights also criticised the government’s migration policy, saying in a report that SA’s “apartheid-style” policy criminalised migration while fuelling xenophobia. It took the government to task for its approach, which, assuming that SA’s borders were impossible to monitor, concentrated the enforcement of migration law where migrants lived, worked and studied. However, against the expected increase in Zimbabwean migrants after Saturday’s poll , the government has worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to produce a contingency plan. There were also reports that some nongovernmental organisations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières , had established a presence at the Beitbridge border post.Although there were similar contingency preparations for Zimbabwe’s 2002 and 2005 polls, those plans involved arrangements for the immediate welfare needs of people crossing the border and some consideration of their registration. The new plan was expected to be better because it provided a clearer allocation of responsibilities within government departments. The City of Johannesburg recently announced it was converting a building in Fordsburg into a shelter for newly arrived migrants. But the manager of the city’s migrants help desk, Thuli Mlangeni, said yesterday it would be some time before it opened. “It’s not going to be occupied today, tomorrow or next week,” she said. A lease was still to be obtained from the Johannesburg Property Company, while an application to have the building rezoned was pending. However, Mlangeni said Johannesburg had a number of privately run shelters. “As to whether they accommodate migrants, I can’t say offhand.” Following pressure to accommodate increased numbers of asylum seekers previously, the home affairs department has considered establishing “transit facilities” to address the inability of its refugee reception offices to cope. Lawyers for Human Rights was among the organisations that made submissions opposing the creation of a “camp-like situation” limiting refugees’ freedom.