Address by President Zuma, on the occasion of the re-launch of the Marabastad Refugee Reception Centre, renamed as Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Centre Marabastad, Pretoria
Minister Malusi Gigaba and other Ministers present,
Deputy Minister of Home Affairs
Representative from the Desmond and Leah Tutu Family
Representatives from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and key national stakeholders present
Leadership of organisations representing foreign nationals residing in our country,
DG Home Affairs and all senior officials,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Thank you for joining our government today on this important occasion of celebrating the upgrading and re-launch of the Marabastad Refugee Reception Centre.
I visited this centre last year as part of the Presidential Siyahlola Monitoring programme. I received lots of complaints from people using the centre, foreign nationals.
The challenges experienced at Marabastad included limited human resource capacity, slow information technology infrastructure, inadequate filing systems, poor management practices and a working environment that was not conducive for clients and staff.
The centre was also marred by allegations of corruption, long queues, overcrowding and the presence of criminal syndicates.
Today is a happy occasion as we have come to open the revamped centre. We welcome the improvements that have been made.
Improvements have been made in respect of infrastructure including the redesign and refurbishment of public areas and office accommodation, signage, counters and lighting as well as the installation of a new security system and electrical fencing.
Other key interventions include the introduction of new systems and processes such as an automated booking system and electronic applications, improved registry and filing and continuous engagement with stakeholders.
Most importantly government wants to stop crime and corruption in the system and prevent crime syndicates from using asylum seekers to make money through bribes for permits which poses a serious security risk for the country. We urge asylum seekers not to fall into this trap as consequences are dire.
Government will not tolerate corruption in the refugee reception centres as well as in the documentation process.
The interventions made will improve the service delivery standards of the Centre to guarantee that all clients are treated in a humane and dignified manner, while also ensuring security.
The revamping of the Marabastad Centre forms part of a broader government strategy on migration. Cabinet approved a Green Paper for public consultation on 25 May 2016 on international migration. The Green Paper was launched in June 2016 and a White Paper will be submitted to Cabinet for approval by March 2017. We urge the public to participate in this policy making process.
The White Paper on International Migration seeks to balance our international humanitarian commitments with the need for meeting our domestic requirements including security and the social upliftment of our citizens.
How do we balance the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment of our own citizens with the international responsibility of accepting refugees from other countries as well? We need public comments on these critical questions.
One of the proposals in the White Paper is to move refugee reception centres next to our borders.
This is intended to better manage the large numbers of asylum seekers received. The Department of Home Affairs would be able to ensure speedy processing of applications and provide quick integration assistance to qualifying refugees.
Let me emphasise that Government is not seeking to create camps or to restrict the movement of refugees.
The purpose is to ensure proper coordinated migration and to enable government to document and know refugees so that they can be provided assistance. It is also a serious security matter for the country.
South Africa remains one of the top ten countries to which individuals seeking asylum go.
At its height around 2008 we were receiving up to one hundred and fifty thousand (150 000) applications per annum. This number has significantly decreased and stabilised around sixty thousand in recent years. However, this influx is still high and remains a challenge given the economic realities that South Africa faces as a developing nation.
It happens as we are still trying hard to overcome the legacy of apartheid and provide an equitable society to South African citizens especially black people who were historically and systematically subjugated.
Most asylum applications are received from nationals within the African continent notably from Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Burundi and Ghana.
At the same time, there has been an increase in applications from the Asian sub-continent especially from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Our statistics indicate that the profile of asylum seekers remain largely males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five years old. The Department of Home Affairs rejects close to ninety-five percent of the asylum applications because they are not genuine.
Most asylum seekers are actually economic migrants. When they get asylum permits they use these to work, study and operate businesses.
They know that they would not qualify for corresponding visas under the Immigration Act.
Given these numbers, it becomes easy to understand why the Marabastad Centre had been plagued with allegations of corruption, poor service delivery and the operation of criminal syndicates.
The Refugees Act of 1998 is also currently under review in Parliament and set to be amended. These amendments seek to primarily stop economic migrants from abusing the asylum system to regularize their stay in the country for work or business purposes.
We appreciate the understanding and tolerance of the South African people and the manner in which they have received many refugees who have been integrated into many communities.
We also emphasise that government is taking action against illegal migration and that all the processes we are mentioning are aimed at ensuring that the process becomes transparent and legal, and that government is able to register genuine refugees and assist them, and send back those who are taking chances.
Let me also remind our people that not all foreign nationals are in the country illegally, which is sometimes the view of some frustrated South Africans.
Many foreign nationals are most welcome in the country. They add to the cosmopolitan nature of our country. They bring much-needed skills that contribute to growing our economy.
I mentioned in the State of the Nation Address last year that we had heard concerns from companies about delays in obtaining visas for skilled staff from abroad.
The Department of Home has since implemented a 10-year multiple entry visas to bona fide business persons and academics from Africa.
There is also now a 10-year visa waiver for business executives from BRICS countries to remain in the Republic for 30 days.
In respect of priority given to the processing of visa applications for corporate clients, the Department of Home Affairs has established visa and permit service centres in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
These centres will offer a ‘one-stop-shop’ to prospective investors and exporters to fulfil administrative requirements and reduce turnaround times for visas for corporate clients.
The beneficiaries of this service are large businesses, organisations, and employers who make an important contribution to the economy in infrastructure, manufacturing, energy, retail, professional and financial services, research and development, and knowledge production.
Foreign graduates in South African tertiary institutions in the area of critical skills are also able to apply for permanent residence status in order for South Africa to retain the knowledge they have acquired, to the benefit of the South African economy.
Furthermore, critical skills visas are also issued to foreign students graduating from South African universities in the critical skills areas who do not intend to explore the permanent residence option.
This maximizes South Africa’s ability to utilize the skills capacity produced within the country’s borders to meet the skills requirement for the country’s development and economic objectives in particular.
The Department of Higher Education and Training is currently drafting a list of Occupations in Demand, which is the Scarce Skills List that will support Home Affairs in this process of helping the economy.
We deemed it prudent to rename the centre in line with our commitment as government to deliver a standard of service in line with our Batho Pele principles, putting people first.
We are happy that the centre is being named after a distinguished South African who has fought tirelessly for justice, equality, human rights and freedom.
Government appreciates the willingness and support of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation to rename the Marabastad Centre as the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Centre.
The values and principles of the Tutu Foundation are in line with our commitment of instilling a culture of Ubuntu and compassion at the Centre and across all government service delivery access points.
The re-launch of the Centre will not result in the overnight eradication of all the challenges.
The influx of asylum seekers will continue to put pressure on this centre. We urge staff to work with clients in a manner that promotes efficiency, effectiveness and which underscores human dignity, which are values that the Department of Home Affairs has been instilling over the years as part of its turnaround.
Government is committed to improving service delivery standards. The work achieved in turning around the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Centre is a testament to this commitment.
We want to make certain commitments that we will hold ourselves to.
South Africa will continue to honour its international and continental commitments to host refugees deserving of our protection.
We will better manage the asylum process to balance humanitarian needs with security requirements.
We will strive to put in place people, systems and processes aligned to deliver quality and speedy adjudication.
We will work with our international partners and continental counterparts towards building an Africa of peace, stability and economic prosperity, and thereby minimise the root causes of forced migration and economic migration.
We will build regional partnerships to manage migration in a mutually beneficial manner.
We thank all stakeholders for support in making this initiative a success.
In this year in which we are celebrating the life and legacy of a true internationalist, Oliver Reginald Tambo, I wish all stakeholders in the field of migration great success.
It is my honour and pleasure to declare the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Centre officially open!
I thank you.