By Kgomotso Ramotsho
Universal Rights Association (URA) screened a short film titled ‘In another prison? Migrants in Johannesburg’ on the United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice on 20 February in Pretoria. In the film migrants, who are currently based in Johannesburg, shared how and why they fled from their countries of birth. Some of the reasons that were given, included running away from forced or abusive marriages and political violence, as well as religious beliefs. In the film the migrants expressed that it was hard living in South Africa (SA), as some are victims of xenophobic violence, some do not have proper documents and are accused of stealing jobs that belong to South Africans.
The film was followed by a panel discussion on the effects of social justice on migration. Facilitator of the panel, co-founder and Executive Director of the URA, Atilla Dag, asked panellists about their experiences and thoughts on the human injustices that migrants go through, as well as the work they do with migrants. Project Manager at the Centre for Contextual Ministry at the University of Pretoria, Lance Thomas, said many assume that people have the protection of law, however, he said in his experience working with migrants, he often asks himself, that if SA is one of the countries in the world with the greatest Constitution why are there so many inequalities? He added that the laws of SA, sometimes betray the vast majority of people.
Legal adviser for Lawyers for Human Rights in SA Lusungu Phiri, said she works on a project where Lawyers for Human Rights assist asylum seekers and refugees in accessing their rights in terms of the South African Constitution. She pointed out that this entails that once an asylum seeker arrives in SA, they get assisted on what they are entitled to and also receive explanations regarding the process of how to apply for asylum. However, she added that many asylum seekers experience problems when they arrive in SA, such as getting a basic appointment to get their status determined.
Ms Phiri said Lawyers for Human Rights would then intervene, and if they are unsuccessful in lodging the application, Lawyers for Human Rights can also represent them at the Appeal Court or at the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs. Among other things Lawyers for Human Rights do, was to help assist migrants to access their nationality, she noted. She said some migrants are not able to access their nationality, and those are migrants who do not have any form of identification or any other documents showing where they were born or where they are from.
Ms Phiri said such cases can be taken on appeal to the Department of Home Affairs, so that the department can grant those asylum seekers permanent status. She, however, pointed out that the challenge is that SA has not signed the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954, which relates to the status of stateless persons and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961 relating to the prevention laws of statelessness. She added that, this makes it difficult when dealing with such cases because there are no domestic laws, which deal with the matter. Ms Phiri said it becomes difficult to implement, enforce or protect a person under that situation.
Ms Phiri, however, said that Lawyers for Human Rights get creative and look at the Immigration Act 13 of 2002. Section 31(2)(b) gives a provision that states that under the special circumstances the Minister of Home Affairs can grant permanent residence to a foreign national for special reasons.
Anti-Apartheid activist, Lehlohonolo Moagi, spoke about his experience when he migrated to other countries when he was fleeing from the Apartheid police. He shared how difficult it was for refugees at that time, but also how other countries helped political activists in a time of need. He said that the Apartheid government would find out where political activists were hiding and then send letter bombs to them in countries where they were seeking refuge. He, however, said that there were countries that helped to put the Apartheid government under pressure to sit down at the bargaining table, he pointed out that they would go around in the country to give talks and tell them what was happening in SA and how these countries should boycott SA.
Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.