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South Africa moves to end 'Special Dispensation' for Zimbabwe refugees
September 13, 2010

South Africa moves to end 'Special Dispensation' for Zimbabwe refugees

(JOHANNESBURG) September 9, 2010 – Jesuit Refugee Service notes that the Cabinet of South Africa has moved to end the Special Dispensation for Zimbabwean Nationals that was introduced in April 2009. The Special Dispensation allowed Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa the right to live, work, attend education facilities and access basic health care for a period of six months. This was in response to the socio-economic challenges in Zimbabwe, which resulted in large-scale cross-border movement, as vulnerable groups sought safety and alternative livelihoods strategies in South Africa.

JRS Southern Africa is pleased to see that the South African government has recognized the necessity of providing assistance to vulnerable Zimbabweans, and welcomes efforts to tackle the complex issue of Zimbabwean cross-borders movement head-on, as opposed to ignoring the issue. We are also pleased to see cross-border collaboration from both the Zimbabwean and South African governments, as this promises a more effective and meaningful solution to migration flows between the two countries. 

However, we are concerned about a number of issues raised by this most recent Cabinet decision. Firstly, the timeframe offered to Zimbabweans to legalize themselves is four months. In this time, Zimbabweans must cross back into Zimbabwe, apply and obtain documents, re-cross into South Africa and apply again at Home Affairs for the relevant permit. There are some question marks over whether it is realistic to expect this to happen legally within a four month period.

This process also does not address the fears and safety concerns of those who have fled from persecution in Zimbabwe – returning to the country to obtain documents might be a life-threatening exercise, and some who have left Zimbabwe due to over-powering economic hardship may not be able to afford the processing fees, now posted in United States dollars. The implication of a straight application (or exchange, in terms of turning in counterfeit documents) for work or study permits does not address the fact that under South African legislation, many Zimbabweans do not qualify for work visas – which means that the plan to end the Special Dispensation would result in mass deportation of vulnerable individuals who do not have the means to gain a legal permit, but who have no support or survival strategies back in Zimbabwe. 

Finally, we note that the government has said it will resume deportations of those who have not managed to complete the legalization process by 31 December 2010. JRS remains unconvinced about the cost-benefit of deportation as a deterrent and solution to mass in-migration. Deportation is a costly exercise, as figures from the National Treasury show, and its effect as a lasting solution remains under question – not to mention the ethics behind what could turn into a mass deportation, given the likelihood that few individuals would manage to legalize themselves and their status in two countries, within four months. 

These are all crucial issues to address, as the Cabinet statement implies that this venture could act as a model for South Africa’s interaction with migrants and asylum-seekers from other countries, moving forward. Many of these issues could be raised and resolved through the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation committee that has been put forward as a way to oversee implementation of this project. We look forward to hearing more about this committee, its composition and its role. 

JRS whole-heartedly supports initiatives that will allow Zimbabweans to move more freely between South Africa and Zimbabwe, stimulating both economies through trade and investing their productive skills in building up our socio-economic resources as a region.

Jesuit Refugee Service is an international Catholic organization with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. This involves ensuring that refugees are afforded their full rights while in exile and during repatriation as guaranteed by the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and working to strengthen the protection afforded to internally displaced persons. 

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Mr Christian Fuchs
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