Cape Town – Fifteen million people are living without legal identity documents in South Africa, while 10000 local and foreign people are considered stateless, MPs were told.
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) briefed the Home Affairs portfolio committee on these figures along with problems faced by migrants, the opening of refugee offices and backlogs.
Comparatively, there were 3.9 million stateless people around the world, the lawyers said. LHR statelessness project head, Thandeka Chauke, stressed that 10 000 stateless people included South Africans and migrants, and that stateless children for migrants were not assisted by any consulate.
Chauke painted a picture of a department that does not follow court orders, citing a report in their possession about more than 30 fathers (unmarried) and children who were turned away by Home Affairs officials for child birth registration, despite the Constitutional Court’s judgment in Child Law v Minister of Home Affairs that allows single fathers to register their children. LHR posed questions to the committee to ask the department when it appears before MPs.
The lawyers also charged that Home Affairs’ service towards immigrants was “xenophobic”.
LHR’s Lindokuhle Mdabe said there was “systematic” and “structural xenophobia” in how the department dealt with asylum-seekers and refugees.
“I know we might have to debate the lexicon, but that is how the organisation decided to describe the conditions faced by our client communities at Home Affairs,” Mdabe said, adding that there were challenges with Home Affairs’ online system dealing with refugee status.
“We see a lack of access due to a lack of internet access, which is an obvious thing,” he said. “Even if they’ve filed online, they will have to wait for two months to get an interview (with Home Affairs).”
Responding to the Cape Argus on the xenophobia charge, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said: “We were not part of that meeting, but I’m sure the portfolio committee will send the questions to us. We are not going to debate with them (LHR) through the media.”
Given a three-day deadline, Home Affairs spokesperson Siyabulela Qoza had not responded to queries that detailed LHR’s claims, at the time of going to press.
This publication recently reported that the country has an interpreters shortage crisis, which has prompted the Public Service Commission to pressure the government to intervene.
Mdabe asked MPs to push the department on whether it had challenges in documenting child refugees; to detail the issues; how many requests for verification the department has received since introducing its renewal system; and why their clients were detained for extended periods. Mdabe said they had had to write to schools and hospitals to indicate that despite the documentation, migrants still had the right to the services.