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Migration a positive phenomenon - Guterres to AU

Migration was among the five areas of cooperation between the AU and the UN that Secretary General António Guterres touched on at the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa which came to an end on Monday.

UN Chief António Guterres lauded the cooperation between the UN and the African Union in his remarks at the 30 AU Summit. Image: Uhuru Kenyatta via Twitter

Along with peace and security, inclusive sustainable development, women involvement and leadership in development and climate change he described migration as a positive phenomenon for development in his opening speech on Sunday.

“It powers economic growth, reduces inequalities, connects diverse societies and helps us ride the demographic waves of population growth and decline. I condemn the widespread abuse and exploitation of migrants that are a stain on our common humanity,” Guterres said.

This comes amidst a migration crisis faced by European countries overwhelmed by migrants from African countries who use Libya as a central transit hub. Guterres referred to abuses of migrant rights as unacceptable new forms of slavery.

The crisis in Europe overshadows the fact that south-south migration outstrips movement of people to the northern hemisphere. Many African migrants remain within the continent.

According to the latest International Organisation for Migration report there were an estimated 244-million international migrants globally in 2015 which amounted to 3,3% of the overall world population. In comparison there have been about 740-million internal migrations within countries in the same period.

In Africa the country of destination for most immigrants is South Africa, the majority of whom are from the African continent making up 75,3% of the migrant population according to Statistics South Africa.

The bulk of migrants in South Africa come from the African continent, particularly the SADC region. Eleven percent of migrants to the country were unspecified in 2016. Source: StatsSA

The regulation of immigration processes has been a challenge for the country which sees many come in either as refugees seeking asylum or looking for greener pastures in Sub-Saharan Africa’s most industrialised country.

The country has been gripped with recurring violent xenophobic incidents, most notably since the May 2008 attacks where official records placed the number of deaths at 62 which included at least 21 South African citizens.

Migrants and law enforcement

Recently there have been concerns around the abuse and victimisation of foreign nationals by law enforcement agencies conducting the second phase of a crime prevention campaign termed Operation Fiela. Some human rights organisations complained about the operation targeting migrants with disregard for their rights.

Lawyers for Human Rights expressed their concern when the South African government’s justice cabinet cluster announced the current phase.

“It is the experience of Lawyers for Human Rights, through its work with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, that in the policing of foreign nationals, the police has made itself guilty of gross physical and emotional abuses, bribery and corruption.”

The organisation’s other concern is what it sees as random and arbitrary military style operations that do not deal with the imbalance of policing in poor communities.

Operation Fiela is a cooperation led by the police department involving other state entities such as the home affairs department, the prosecutions authority, international relations ministry including others like the defence force and the state security agency.

In his statement on the launch of the operation police minister Fikile Mbalula outlined Illicit drug trafficking and contraband, human trafficking and prostitution, liquor control, the sale of stolen second-hand goods, hijackings, illegal occupation of buildings and undocumented migrants as the main targets of the campaign.

In explaining some of the reasons behind the operation Mbalula said: “There are several protests actions that have occurred due to communities losing faith in the police. Most of these protests are of genuine feelings and I want to state clearly that our people are correct.”

It is fears of how foreign nationals will be treated during the operations that worries some. There seems to be a gap in expectations of how immigration related issues that fuel xenophobic sentiments among some sections of South African society should be handled.

Wits professor Loren Landau, the research chair in Mobility and the Politics of Difference at the university’s African Centre for Migration & Society, says the issue is remotely related to immigration in the true sense. He says there are marked differences in the way xenophobic violence manifests itself in South Africa compared to the racism seen in Europe and the US.

“South Africans’ frustrations are at their lost futures. 25 years ago people expected they would be living in a different country in 2018 than the one we have, one with greater economic and physical security, less inequality and racism. We don’t live in that country and people are justifiably upset about it,” Prof Landau said.

Prof Landau said there is a displacement of blame on the part of citizens and authorities towards those they see as outsiders because even if an individual migrant can commit crime most foreign nationals are law abiding.

“Similarly, while an individual may lose a job or a house to a foreigner, ridding the country of foreigners – or a community of people of newly arrived South Africans – will do little to address the structural, spatial, and racial inequalities that South Africa now faces,” he added.

On January 30 the African Diaspora Forum, an organisation formed in response to the 2008 xenophobic violence, will hold a meeting at its offices in Yeoville, Johannesburg, to deliberate on the operation.

“In order to discuss in details how to fight crime and to report human rights abuses, we are inviting everyone, especially community leaders, school principals, religious leaders, different stakeholders, to a meeting this coming Tuesday,” the forum said in a press release.

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