People seek asylum at the Pretoria home affairs offices.  File picture: SOWETAN
People seek asylum at the Pretoria home affairs offices. File picture: SOWETAN

ONLY 12% of the more than 75,000 asylum seekers who applied for refugee status in SA last year were successful, a sign that the system was being clogged up by economic migrants without a political claim to stay in the country.

Deputy director-general of home affairs Thulani Mavuso told Parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs on Tuesday that the department would this year seek to amend the Refugee Act of 1998 to speed up the processing of asylum applications.

Recurring violence against foreigners has placed policy makers under pressure to address the presence of large numbers of migrants competing with locals in low-skill jobs and small-scale business enterprises.

The Refugee Act, which is based on the Geneva Conventions, gives every individual from no matter where an opportunity to present their case for asylum. Large numbers of applicants and cumbersome appeal processes have meant that asylum seekers without a legitimate claim can legally live and work in SA for many years while their applications are adjudicated.

Last year the highest number of those granted refugee status came from Ethiopia, (3,041), Somalia (2,903) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2,321).

"(Most) asylum seekers fell outside of the definition of a refugee. These are instances of economic migrants with low-end skills (seeking livelihoods)," said Mr Mavuso.

The committee also heard presentations on policy recommendations from the International Organisation for Migration and the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The organisations recommended providing legal avenues for unskilled migrants to enter the country as a means of controlling migration.

But MPs expressed doubts about allowing unskilled migrants to enter SA and look for employment opportunities. "Can we afford for SA to be a free-for-all? Could we put in place a policy that says that unskilled labour must come in, which is a policy which few of our citizens will understand?" said committee chairman Lemias Mashile.

He said the committee would have a thorough discussion to revamp SA’s immigration policy.

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