Management of SA’s borders is priority, says Cyril Ramaphosa
The president says the problems faced along SA’s borders are both historical and contemporary
President Cyril Ramaphosa says the newly launched border management authority is necessary for maintaining the integrity of the country’s borders.
“It is a daunting undertaking. Our land border is more than 4,800km long and is shared with six countries. We have 53 land ports of entry, 11 international airports and eight seaports. The launch last week of the country’s first integrated, unified border management authority (BMA) is therefore a milestone in the effort to secure our borders.”
The president said the challenges faced on the country's borders were both historical and contemporary.
“The apartheid regime flagrantly disregarded the sovereignty of neighbouring countries to conduct illegal cross-border raids. It abused immigration measures to harass its opponents, and enforced hated policies like influx control and the exploitation of labour from the region.”
In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said it was the priority of the democratic government elected in 1994 to progressively reform the border management and migration regime, not only in the interests of economic growth and development, but also so the reforms reflect the broader values of the new state.
“The democratic government has worked to uphold the right of citizens to freedom of movement and residence, as well as the rights of refugees and asylum seekers under international conventions.”
The president said the BMA sought to deepen trade between SA and other southern African countries and contribute to the political and economic integration of the continent.
“Over time, however, the complexities of border management have resulted in an uncoordinated approach by the different authorities. One of the challenges has been the sheer number of government departments and entities involved in this work.”
Ramaphosa said the absence of a central authority led to fragmentation of efforts and made it difficult to enforce accountability, which rendered the country's borders vulnerable.
“The UN office on drugs and crime has noted SA has become an important transit route for organised criminal networks involved in human trafficking, drugs and small arms smuggling and other forms of cross-border crime.”
The president noted the country, as the economic powerhouse of the region, continues to attract economic migrants who are undocumented, especially from the Sadc region.
“The proliferation of cross-border crime, illicit trade and illegal migration as a result of porous borders presents a serious threat to our national security and economy. It also places strain on already stretched resources and public services and fuels social instability.
“We have in recent times seen anti-foreigner sentiment resulting in acts of violence and harassment. As a country, we must condemn without reservation all acts of violence against foreign nationals, regardless of their immigration status, and work together to prevent such acts.”
Ramaphosa said, however, the country should also recognise that South Africans are justifiably concerned about illegal migration.
“Like any sovereign nation, we have the right to guarantee the integrity of our borders and provide that all who reside in our borders have a legal right to be here. Those who have sought refuge in SA or wish to live and work here are subject to immigration regulations and must adhere to the country’s laws.”
The president said the border management authority is tasked with ensuring the country’s immigration laws are enforced, the borders are well-protected and ports of entry well-managed.
“The new authority is the third armed service in SA after the SA National Defence Force and the SA Police Service (SAPS). The first officers of the new BMA border guard were deployed in July this year at vulnerable segments of the border, including at informal crossings.”
Despite conducting border law enforcement functions, including access control, Ramaphosa said the army remains responsible for border protection and safeguarding.
“With this new structure in place, we will also be able to better prevent the illegal importation and exit of goods, curb illegal migration and human smuggling and combat cross-border crime.”
Ramaphosa said the BMA will take on the work of several other departments and agencies and is already working with the SA Revenue Service, police and military to integrate border management functions.
“The establishment of the BMA is a significant step towards safer communities, better law enforcement and the growth of our economy through greater trade with our neighbours. Ensuring our borders are well-managed and well-protected is key to the security and development of our country.”
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