Tightening border controls is the ”worst” thing South Africa could do to curb illegal immigration, Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Tuesday.
”Economic migrants will always find a way of moving into areas where they shouldn’t be. You are not going to be able to prevent that,” she told reporters in Johannesburg.
”The worst would be … to go back to the past where we had electric fences meant to restrict people.”
Referring to Beit Bridge, South Africa’s border with crisis-torn Zimbabwe, she said it was originally developed in a manner that ”allows little movement between South Africa and the rest of the continent”.
”But we are talking of free movement of people,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
Tighter border controls would ”actually encourage illegal migration”, she said.
”Our emphasis is on facilitation of movement rather than tighter border control … then you know who is in the country and what they are doing.”
There are no official numbers available on illegal immigrants in South Africa, but some estimates are as high as two million, a situation exacerbated by the socio-economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe.
Mapisa-Nqakula was speaking at a media briefing on immigration logistics for the Soccer World Cup, and how African countries would be accommodated to attend the event.
Residents of non-Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, who would normally require visas to enter South Africa, would be given a special event visa to attend the 2010 World Cup.
The event visa would be issued for both the Fifa Confederations Cup in 2009 and the 2010 event.
Programme manager for 2010 Morne Fourie said it was important to make it easy for visitors from Africa to attend the tournament.
”This is Africa’s world cup,” said Fourie, adding that five African countries — excluding South Africa — would qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
Fourie said most 2010 visitors would come from Europe and Africa. Immigration services at land border posts would be beefed up to accommodate the latter.
However, good immigration measures included a ”welcoming arm, facilitation arm and law enforcement arm”.
”We still need to maintain the immigration law as it stands,” he said.
The Department of Home Affairs would do exit tracking in an attempt to ensure that no ”undesirable persons” remained behind illegally.
Mapisa-Nqakula said other improved services included pre-screening and pre-clearance at seven international airports at the port of entry, security checks on visitors with the help of foreign governments and streamlining ”queue management” at airports.
Home Affairs officials would be placed at seven international airports in several countries including the United Kingdom, Germany and India. They officials would stamp visitors’ passports even before they got on to the plane, to enable them to enter South Africa without standing in long queues.
However, they would still have to go through customs. Also, when visitors got their boarding passes, they would be screened to check if they were on the stop list of soccer hooligans. – Sapa