South African parliament condemns refugee violence in Cape Town, Pretoria

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UNHCR logo

South Africa’s Parliament on Monday condemned “in the strongest terms” the acts of violence by refugees in Cape Town and Pretoria.

“The acts of violence are undermining the goodwill that has prevailed toward the refugees in the country,” said Bongani Bongo, chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs.

Following the latest spate of xenophobic attacks in September, during which at least 12 people were killed in parts of the country, groups of foreign nationals, including refugees and asylum-seekers, staged protests outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cape Town and Pretoria in October to highlight their plight.

The protests turned violent last week when protesters stormed the UNHCR office in Pretoria and physically attacked a delegation consisting of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen, a pastor and other members of civil society organizations in Cape Town.

The acts of violence against the police and the clergy undermine the refugees’ plight and is a clear violation of both the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol that place an obligation on refugees to abide by the laws and regulations of the country they seek asylum from, and respect measures taken for the maintenance of public order, Bongo said in a statement emailed to Xinhua.

“While we acknowledge the concerns that the refugees are highlighting, the forceful turn of events diminishes the work that ensures that refugees are treated in accordance with internationally recognized legal standards,” he said.

Bongo said his committee has committed itself to working with the Department of Home Affairs in alleviating the problems on refugees to ensure that South Africa keeps its legal obligations in relation to refugees.

South Africa is known for its dialogue approach in overcoming differences, and the government has called on the refugees and all the stakeholders to engage cordially to find lasting solutions, Bongo said.

He called on all South Africans to engage on the issue of refugees with great care and with a high spirit of Ubuntu (meaning humanity toward others) and also driven by the fact that South Africa is a member of the United Nations.

Bongo also stressed that the Department of Home Affairs should ensure that the rights of everyone within the borders of South Africa be protected under the Refugees Act and the Immigration Act.

The UNHCR and the South African government should cooperate to find solutions to challenges raised by the refugees, Bongo said.

According to official statistics, South Africa is home to more than 268,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Enditem

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