Durban - South Africa has one of the world’s best refugee policies but it is not being implemented and the system is tainted by “corruption”, experts say.
They were responding to claims that it was the thousands of undocumented immigrants in Durban who have ignited the xenophobic hatred.
Despite the law and policy ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, on Wednesday said South Africa should set up refugee camps - similar to those in Australia - to process people before they are let into the country.
However, this view has been criticised as unconstitutional with concerns this would draw government resources from more pressing needs.
Trish Erasmus, head of the refugee and migrant rights programme at Lawyers for Human Rights, said the government dropped the ball after the 2008 xenophobic violence and should have taken the lessons learnt then to prevent future flare-ups.
South Africa had failed to implement a long-term strategy to integrate immigrants into society and had a knee-jerk reaction to xenophobic-linked violence, she said.
Part of the problem, Erasmus said, was that the asylum system was riddled with corruption.
“The reasons for people being undocumented are varied and they are not all to blame. A huge number of people are undocumented because of corruption.”
Erasmus said calls to establish refugee camps flew in the face of the Refugee Act, which was based on an urban refugee model, and the constitution.
“This means that refugees must establish an independent livelihood and live among communities and are not supposed to be separated from society. They must have access to all facilities South Africans have.
“Those calling for refugee camps don’t understand the constitutional framework and the refugee legislation under which we protect refugees,” she said.
“An urban refugee model is a preferable one and it has proven itself the best model time and time again. We hope that this is just his (Mantashe’s) idea and not a widespread idea.”
The director of the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University, Ingrid Palmary, agreed. South Africa’s refugee laws were very progressive and met all the international human rights commitments, she said.
“Refugees in South Africa account for a very small proportion of migrants. It (the proposal) is not going to be a solution that will ensure there are no foreigners in South Africa. There will still be foreigners and the majority are not migrating under the refugee law,” she said.
“In camps, we will be required to provide education, health care and all the services migrants could otherwise access on their own.
“In reality, South Africa’s number of migrants is actually very low… nothing remarkable about it. What you will be doing is creating an entire parallel system for a very small number of people,” Palmary said. “It would not pass the constitutional test because freedom of movement is enshrined in our constitution.”