N. Mapisa-Nqakula, Deputy Minister,
South African Home Affairs
Centurion, South Africa, 19 July 2002
Officials of the South African Migration Project
Delegates to the Workshop
Upon receiving your invitation to this workshop, we had an opportunity to go through the provisional programme and I must say that the issues that will be addressed here are at the very core of an urgent dialogue that is necessary between government and institutions of civil society. We should therefore thank the organisers for inviting us to join in the workshop's deliberations.
A discussion on issues affecting women refugees will always touch a sensitive point in me personally, having been a woman refugees for many years myself. The difficulties and hardships to which many women are subjected to when they cross borders from their homes have been my experiences too and I stand here today with an understanding of the need for this kind of discussion. First hand, I have learnt that women immigrants suffer a great deal more than other sections of migrants. The trauma of being separated from their families and the indignity of having someone else taking decisions about your life without your involvement are just some of the added frustrations in the plight of women refugees. So, even at the very beginning of this workshop we can conclusively acknowledge the need for more protection of women.
Tomorrow July the 20th will mark a full month since we commemorated World Refugee Day under the auspices of the UNHCR. In my message to the festivities of that day, I had cautioned that all of us need to do more than just take a few hours every year to give thought to the plight of refugees. The convening of this workshop to specifically address the situation of women refugees in our region further demonstrates our conviction that we can, and we should, do more. In the area of addressing the plight of those displaced from their homes.
If we are to appreciate the enormity of this situation, I think we must take a glimpse at the picture painted by recorded statistics regarding the immigration of women throughout the SADC region. It is estimated that by the beginning of this year, the UNHCR had close to 20 million people under their concern. About 1.2 million refugees were in our region by the end of March this year and majority of them had been women.
The story behind the statistics is even gloomier and it shows that the situation can appear more horrific if we could calculate the impact of this displacement on a specific family, a specific community, an individual mother and a particular child. A great number of homes, places that once represented hope, security, a sense of belonging and love, today stand empty as a cruel reminder that the refugee situation is about real lives of real people.
Although we are currently engaged with the process of regeneration, our continent is still infested with many social ills that are a direct legacy of colonialism and the plundering of our resources. Accumulating over hundreds of years, the result has been wars, famine, disease and the destabilisation of families and communities.
Understandably so, South Africa is expected, and has prepared herself, to play a major role in this envisaged reconstruction of Africa. Many more refugees are going to be coming to our shores for many reasons, but mainly because with the dawn of our democracy, our country is viewed as a beacon of hope. We should accept this responsibility not only to lead our continent out of centuries of darkness and degradation but also to extend our solidarity and compassion to those who need our hand.
Television and newspaper images of millions of women with sick and malnourished babies strapped to their mothers' backs is evidence of how women are affected by the migration cycle.Women do not only suffer the emotional trauma of helplessly watching their children die during these long journeys, but they also become victims of abuse and undignified treatment along the way. I am encouraged by the fact that this workshop will spend some time on the issue of trafficking of women and other crimes that are a result of the vulnerability of women immigrants.
At a Departmental level we have been seized with the matter of the way South Africans handle the coming of immigrants into our country, particularly those from within our own continent. In this regard I have announced a programme in partnership with community based organisations to educate the public on xenophobia. It is our view that immigrants who come into our country need to be integrated into communities within which they live and make their contribution into the building of such communities and the country broadly. We will be talking to some of you about the contribution that your different organisations can make in ensuring the effectiveness of this programme.
Let me however stress that there is no need nor justification for foreigners to feel that they should enter our country illegally and live as illegal immigrants while they can apply for refugee status. Of course certain problems have been raised with processing of these applications and we are dealing with them, but at no point will we entertain any excuse for someone to deliberately remain in this country illegally.The issue of the treatment of immigrants has been in the public domain recently due to reports regarding the state of the Lindela Repatriation Centre that is run by our department as a transit place to hold illegal immigrants awaiting deportation.
We are currently addressing some of these problems and we have scheduled a series of high level visits to the centre ourselves. The issue that I want to raise however concerns the wellbeing of women in centres similar to this one. We will soon investigate possibilities of establishing special refugee centres for women and children to cater for their special needs, such as provision of adequate health care including the issue of reproductive health, counseling and recreation.
Our policies and actions in handling issues of migration should be underpinned by values enshrined in our constitution that human rights are for all people, despite their nationality and status for that matter.Programme Director, I feel compelled here to reiterate the significance of the launch of the African Union in Durban at the beginning of this month as well as the unveiling of NEPAD as a strategic blue print for Africa's development.
Since time immemorial Africans have been known to be normadic, moving from one place and settling in another. In the recent years, however we have come to learn that people of our continent are now forced by socio-economic factors such as wars and political instability, to leave the familiar surroundings of their home to be strangers in foreign lands with no guaranteed prospects of survival.Urgent amongst the tasks of the AU and NEPAD is to address the root cause of this forced migration of our people away from their families, cultures and ways of life. We are confident that the deliberations of this workshop will reach the NEPAD secretariat to guide us on how to take on board concerns raised regarding women immigration as we finalise policy directives.
Let me once again thank you for inviting us here and also to apologise that due to an urgent commitment I am not able to stay for the entire duration of the workshop. I will leave Mr. Mike Ramagoma from my office to stay here on my behalf so that we can take the issues dealt with here to form part of some of the work that we are already engaged with.
I thank you
Last updated 20 May 2004.