So then, do migrants have rights to be in cities? The answer is yes, based on the socioeconomic rights enshrined in the SA constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is a travesty of justice when any citizen, asylum seeker or refugee is excluded from enjoying any rights. However, since the right to cities is often characterised by social and political struggles, political and other societal leaders must consider the barriers that limit the meaningful co-existence of asylum seekers and refugees and their SA hosts in cities.
This consideration is important to ensure core values of human dignity, tolerance, peace, inclusion, and equality are upheld and promoted among all citizens including the migrant community. Therefore, rights to the city essentially connote the right for everyone, including asylum seekers and refugees, to the benefits offered by cities, based on principles of human rights, equity and social justice, irrespective of their gender, race, religion, colour, ethnicity or nationality.
Since post-apartheid SA is premised on a rights-based constitutional democracy, government must fast track the realisation of socioeconomic rights at all spheres of governance. This is important to ensure no-one is left behind or excluded. Moreover, to fast track realisation of these rights at the city level it is becoming increasingly important to increase the involvement of municipalities in migration-related debates, so that cities are well-positioned to respond to the influx of migrants — internal (those who migrate locally) and external (asylum seekers and refugees) — by ensuring the rights to the city are realised, promoted and protected.
Dr. Kariuki is executive director of the Democracy Development Programme. He writes in his personal capacity.