The United Nations refugee agency has thanked South Africa for being a leader on the continent when it comes to giving refugees rights.
“Unlike in most countries in Africa‚ refugees have rights in South Africa such as the right to work and access social services.
“We would like to express our appreciation to the government of South Africa for being a leader on the continent when it comes to having availed these rights to refugees on its territory‚” UNHCR regional representative for Southern Africa Sharon Cooper said.
Cooper was addressing a World Refugee Day in Johannesburg on Monday to pay tribute to the millions of people who had been forcefully uprooted from their lives.
Cooper said the complexity and protracted nature of conflicts meant that forced displacement had now reached an unprecedented level since the founding of the United Nations‚ with over 60 million people being uprooted around the world.
Cooper expressed satisfaction that South Africa was addressing changes in issuing permits to asylum seekers to make it a fair process
“This is testimony to the fact that issues being raised by refugees‚ such as prompt issuance of documentation‚ are being addressed.”
She said the UNHCR was working with government to reduce the refugee status determination backlog‚ both at first instance and at the appeal level‚
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said awareness of‚ support for‚ and integration of refugees had been one of the most difficult international policy issues.
“Too often‚ governments and citizens have shrank away from their legal and moral duty to offer refuge to those fleeing war and persecution in their home countries.”
Gigaba said the poorest countries hosted the largest refugee populations‚ while the richest countries host the fewest.
“In 2014‚ developing countries hosted 86% of all refugees.”
He said this failure to share humanitarian responsibility had been thrown into stark relief by the unwillingness of many European governments to accept asylum seekers fleeing conflict from Syria.
Gigaba said 26% of the world’s approximately 14 million refugees were in Sub-Saharan Africa and this number had been steadily increasing in recent years.
However‚ Gigaba said refugees were not numbers or statistics.
“Refugees … are people like you and me‚ precious human beings with ideas‚ hopes and dreams.
“They are people with identities‚ cultures and histories‚ and most importantly‚ they are people with futures if we can provide them with the support that we would expect if we were in their position.”
He said refugees were resilient and productive and could contribute much to our societies and economies if they were allowed to.