Migration system is ‘xenophobic’

Xeno-denial: Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi wants to review refugee regulations. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Xeno-denial: Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi wants to review refugee regulations. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Bastin Kashita is a car guard in Johannesburg. He wants to move back to his home country — the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — but it isn’t safe, he says. He moved to the City of Gold six years ago because of what has been termed “the silent crisis of inter-ethnic conflict” in his home country.

“There was a lot of fighting with the army in the DRC,” he says, mixing his French and English.
“It’s very, very bad. At the time there was a problem. I had to leave my four kids in the DRC. My wife came with me.”

Even though Kashita has not been personally attacked for being a migrant, he is constantly worried about his safety.

In September — at the height of the xenophobic attacks, when he hid in his house fearing for his life — the minister of home affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, was questioning the status of many asylum seekers, such as Kashita, who have fled from conflict areas across Africa.

“There must be war in the country. Tell me, where is war on this continent or in Pakistan and Bangladesh? Tell me, where is this war? Even in the DRC, war is in one region.”

His comments came during a briefing to the home affairs portfolio committee on September 17. There, Motsoaledi made it clear that he thinks the legalities concerning refugees in South Africa should be revisited. He added that even people who claim asylum in South Africa for alleged sexual orientation persecution in their home countries can’t provide proof.

On the “issue of gender” he said: “I know all over Africa leaders talk very carelessly about that. But there are very few areas where there are actual persecutions.

“How can we [South Africa] be said to be xenophobic when we’ve got more Basotho than Lesotho itself? We’ve got more Batswana than Botswana itself. We’ve got the biggest percentage of Indians outside of India. There is no other country that has as many people who come from India than in South Africa,” he said.

Motsoaledi failed to respond to questions sent to his office on Tuesday.

Abigail Dawson, who works in the advocacy division at the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, says the migration system is xenophobic.

“[There’s] a continued denialism and move towards normalisation of xenophobic langauge and practice by political leaders and legitimising a more generalised xenophobic discourse,” she says.

“One can see a trend towards deportation [of foreign migrants] as a form of management,” she says. “It’s part of a cyclical issue where it’s very difficult to get [legal] status, which you’ve almost institutionally made illegal in this country because of the huge backlog and failures at the department of home affairs with documented people.

“The White Paper on Inter­national Migration is calling for the closure of refugee reception centres, to be replaced by what’s called the border management agency. It’s moving towards the encampment of people until their asylum statuses are verified.”

Responding to a question in Parliament in July, Motsoaledi said that the number of active asylum seekers in South Africa as of December last year was nearly 185 000. He added that more than 50 000 were from Ethiopia, nearly 35 000 were from the DRC and just over 27 000 came from Bangladesh.

According to the United Nations, the violent clashes between the Batwa and Bantu ethnic groups in the DRC began in 2013 and escalated in 2017, when more than 650 000 people were forced to flee.

Kashita was one of them and he obtained legal refugee status.

Despite his legal status, he is saving up $300 to support his family back home. Eventually, he wants to move back.

“If I find enough money, I will go back. But I can’t go now. There is no money. If there is peace I will go,” he says.

He is not the only one afraid of ever calling South Africa home. A student at Stellenbosch University, who is originally from West Africa, explains that the South African migration system’s current policies makes it difficult for foreigners to work in the country legally. He asked to stay anonymous for fear of persecution.

“The [migration] system kind of locks you out as a foreigner. It’s almost impossible to have five years work experience. To get a work permit, you need to have gotten a job. But to get a job you need a work permit. Most employers are required to prove that they are not employing a foreigner over a local,” he says.

The one way to get around it is to apply for a critical skills work visa which is renewable every year, he says. “But even with the critical skills work visa, you’re not sure whether it will get renewed.”

Jacques Coetzee is an Adamela data fellow at the Mail & Guardian, a position funded by the Indigo Trust. 

Jacques Coetzee

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