Refugee Apeal Board Year end function
This is the tenth year-end function of the Department of Home Affairs over which I have had the privilege to preside . As I was preparing myself for this function, I reflected on how I felt like pointing out on this occasion that the end of our year marks a real turning point in the life of our Department. It dawned on me that at the end of this year we are closing a chapter, to prepare ourselves for the opening a new one as the new year begins, and that the year which has now passed has been an extraordinary year, filled with crises and challenges alike, but it has also been a year in which we have achieved tremendously, in spite of the adverse conditions in which we find ourselves to work and we now prepare the ground to turn our Department around as the new year begins and give to it a new beginning.
Unfortunately, it is likely that pressures on our system of migration control will continue to mount in the future, while it is unlikely that the greater share of our national resources may be allocated to this important function. We all know that the lion's share of the resources allocated for asylum and refugee protection are, unfortunately, taken up and wasted by people who seek to abuse the system and lodge patently unfounded asylum applications which need, nonetheless, to be processed through all the relevant stages, including those before the Refugee Appeal Board. We hope that the implementation of the Immigration Act will provide some measure of redress to this most undesirable phenomenon. In fact, if we consider the flow of irregular, illegal and undocumented foreigners, we may consider that a large number of those who apply for asylum protection, well knowing that they are not entitled to it, and merely to abuse the interim protection offered by the system, are still people who have opted to be within the system, rather than living within our country illegally and outside the system.
Therefore, one would hope that the more liberal provisions in the Immigration Act will enable a larger number of people to be brought within the system, thereby reducing the incentive to abuse refugee protection. After all, the majority of those who abuse our system of refugee protection are still less defiant of our country's legality than the much larger number of people who just live and work in South Africa illegally and of whom we have no record. For this reason, the Immigration Advisory Board has begun a research project to start acquiring information on the nature, dimensions and dynamics of the phenomena of illegal immigration and, just yesterday, held a successful public consultation on the matter.
The consideration of the phenomena of illegal foreigners is significant to the system of refugee protection because one has reason to suspect that as soon as we begin a more effective and extensive enforcement of our migration laws, so as to crackdown on illegal immigration, there will be a renewed incentive for many people to try and seek to abuse the system of refugee protection, in order to gain an interim protection and an immigration status to which they are not entitled. However, amidst all these challenges which rise out of those who abuse the system, there are much deeper challenges which, in my opinion, are the product of intrinsic limitations of a system which was designed fifty years ago and may no longer be fully responsive to the needs and problems of the present. In the age of globalisation not only are opportunities, but also our planet's many problems, shared on a worldwide basis. No region of the world is now too far or remote to make its problems reverberate in our own context. We noticed how the distant war in Afghanistan over a year and a half ago, caused an increase of legal and illegal immigrants as well as asylum seekers from that country in its aftermath. Not only has the scale of the problem changed because distances are becoming so much shorter due to increased ease of movement and transportation, but also the nature of the problems confronting us is different from those which led to the framing of the 1951 Convention and its subsequent protocols.
For instance, I have become increasingly concerned by the fact that in reality the legal distinction between proper refugees, who escape from a well-founded fear of political persecution, and the so-called economic refugees, who escape a situation in which their government can no longer guarantee their fundamental rights to be fed and survive, is becoming increasingly tenuous. For this reason, at the beginning of this year I wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to suggest that our international dialogue on the future of the entire system of refugee protection considers the need of overhauling some of its most salient features and characteristics. Because this is a social function, I will not go into the details of the proposals and considerations which I submitted to the UNHCR in this respect which are, obviously, complex and require detail and analytical attention. However, I felt that, nonetheless, it was worthwhile for me to mention this initiative, which I have taken together with colleagues from other countries, to underscore how the system of refugee protection is, in itself, in a status of fluidity which may lead to significant improvement in the years to come.
There are many and ever-growing challenges in the field of refugee affairs which will continue to require the expertise and dedication of all those who so valiantly have served the Refugee Appeal Board and made it perform so aptly during the past year. Those working in the field of refugee protection are, indeed, part of a tightly knit family which shares a bond of affinity and common dedication to a great cause. Many challenges will be confronting such a noble cause in the years to come, and will call upon those, who have the expertise and the dedication, to make a contribution and continue to serve to ensure that the plight of refugees is properly addressed, and that the system of refugee protection is enabled to work with ever greater efficiency and the elimination of waste and abuses.
For this reason, I call on my friends and colleagues to remain dedicated to the cause of refugee protection with the full confidence that their dedication is not only fully recognised and appreciated, but will also continue to be needed within the fluidity of the present situation and the ever-growing needs of our line function. I hope that all those who worked hard during the past year may now find a period of well deserved relaxation, so as to be ready next year to confront the challenges ahead. I hope that all of you will have the opportunity of spending some serene and joyful time with your families and your loved ones. I pray to God Almighty that He may protect you and your families and Bless you with the full measure of serenity and joy that the holiday season promises.
I thank the organisers of this function for having made it possible for all of us to come together in this fashion as friends and colleagues, and without any further ado I wish to conclude with my most sincere thanks for your work and good wishes to you and your families for the holiday season.
I thank you.