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Eric Morris, The Whig Standard, June 10, 1997
Canada can either support democracy in South Africa today, or debate tomorrow whether to send Canadian peacekeepers into the region.
That's one reason why researchers at Queen's University are involved in a $3-million study to examine migration patterns in that part of the continent.
Sponsored by the federal government, the Southern African Migration Project is a three-year project managed by Queen's which involves 80 researchers and assistants in four countries speaking 15 different languages.
Project manager David McDonald of Queen's explains that the goal of the project, which is the third largest research project currently under way at Queen's, is to understand why people are leaving countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, and migrating to South Africa.
As well, they hope to explain how South Africans react to these immigrants.
McDonald said the completed research will be presented to the South African government and used to develop a new immigration policy.
Although the project is only one year old, McDonald explains that the issue and controversy surrounding South African immigration has been going on for decades.
Since the discovery of diamonds and gold, there has been a huge demand for labor.
Mining companies and other employers prefer South Africa's borders to be as open as possible, giving them access to a cheap pool of labor.
As well, McDonald says many South Africans feel obliged to let fellow Africans fleeing poorer nations into South Africa.
However, many South African residents, concerned about the nation's high unemployment rate, oppose their country's borders being so open.
McDonald estimates that 40 to 60 per cent of blacks are unemployed or underemployed.
McDonald says a new immigration policy must address the conflict between those who want the borders open and those who want them closed.
"Somewhere between those two extremes," he says, "there has to be a compromise found."
As well, McDonald believes their research will create a more informed debate in Africa about migration, educating a populace that he says has been misled by a lack of credible information.
Some mines in South Africa argue that they can only hire from other countries because they are more capable than South African residents.
McDonald, however, dismisses these claims, labeling them "a very thinly veiled racism."
Michel Campeau of the Southern African division at the Canadian International Development Agency, agrees that the region desperately needs a detailed, examination of the issues surrounding migration in southern Africa.
"One of the things missing from the equation has been a solid knowledge base," he said.
South African officials asked Canada to help them develop a new immigration policy, Campeau said, because of Canada's experience in developing its own immigration policy.
He said that the Canadian government agreed to help because it wants to provide support for democracy in South Africa in the post-Apartheid era.
Canada would rather help South African minimize conflict in the region through research and policy development as opposed to having to send peacekeepers, Campeau emphasized.
With two years remaining in funding for the project, McDonald knows that while there is much they will accomplish in their remaining research, the issue of Southern African migration will not be resolved.
He said that ideally, they will find additional funding to continue research on "a very important and potentially explosive issue in the region."
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