Over the years, migration has been an ongoing activity among the human race. As of July 2020, South Africa had the highest number of immigrants among all African countries, hosting about 2.9 million people. While a vast majority of people migrate voluntarily with the aspiration of exploiting the opportunities presented to them by the host economy, others are forced to move because of poverty, social exclusion, human rights abuses, persecution, political instability, and environmental hazards. Some African migrants who failed to meet up with the immigration laws and regulations of the destination country are compelled to push through irregular migration channels including seeking the assistance of migrant smugglers or even falling prey to traffickers. South Africa has been long familiar with both regular and irregular migrants from countries in the region, but since the start of democracy in 1994, migrants from other African countries became prominent due to the country’s shifts toward a more inclusive and diverse society. In spite of this long familiarity, the response to migrants in contemporary South Africa is sometimes characterized by discrimination, hate speech, and negative stereotyping of migrants. Although South African National Health Act permits immigrants to access healthcare, African migrants are not allowed to access public services in some cases for being foreign. At times they have to face hostility and public rejection as they are blamed for escalating the societal issues such as recurring crime waves, rising unemployment, and the deteriorated state of the health system in the country. In recent months, there were several incidences of anti migrants attacks that claimed several lives. For example, the deadly attack that erupted in Diepsloot, a densely populated township in Gauteng, was said to be organized by an anti-migrant extremist group. Moreover, Hillbrow, a central business district in Johannesburg, experienced similar attacks during the same period, and this situation has left many migrants in a state of apprehension and despondency. These concerns have created an alarming situation that warrants the need for the protection of migrants’ rights in South Africa.
Under the declaration of human rights, every individual is granted the same rights and freedom regardless of who they are, where they are from, what they believe, how they chose to live their lives or any other status. Migrants are entitled to the same fundamental rights afforded to all persons of a state irrespective of their legal status. In this context, South Africa government signed an agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees to formalize relationships between the two parties in advancing and protecting the human rights of migrants and refugees. This is an important landmark in a partnership that has the potential to invigorate government action in underpinning human rights principles and commitment to protecting migrants from human rights violations. This commitment places an obligation on the state to respect, effectively protect and fulfil the human right of migrants. Respecting human rights means avoiding infringing on a person’s human rights and in the context of migration, including, desisting from torture or any other punishment that can degrade migrants. Protecting the rights of migrants demands that migrants are adequately shielded from violence, abuse, or any form of exploitation by unscrupulous actors, which implies that the state should fight xenophobia through the utilization of legislation that will prohibit bigotry and hate speech in the society. Fulfilling human rights encompass all the procedures that will enable migrants to access all the rights they are entitled to, such as rights to education, healthcare, and other social services. Governments should promotes heightened understanding of migrants health rights as the lines are blurred.
In order to realize human rights in migration policy, it is crucial to integrate the following cross-cutting principles:
Equality and Non-discrimination
The Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate on a wide range of grounds including sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status. Responding to the issues of migrants in vulnerable conditions requires that states embrace policies and practices that will discourage discrimination and inequality in the treatment of migrants in precarious conditions.
Participation and inclusion
Everyone is afforded the right to participate and make decisions that satisfy their interest and desires, which means that people should not be denied access to information in their convenient language. Finally, data collection, monitoring, and evaluation processes are critical for active inclusion efforts to learn and spread excellent practices. Active participation of migrants is critical in the formation of relevant public policy.
Accountability and the rule of law
States should ensure ample mechanisms of transparency and accountability in their policies for gaining access to justice and also prohibit the denial of migrants’ access to mechanisms of redress and remedies when human rights violations occur. It is the duty of the states to ascertain that these remedies are appropriate to rectify the human rights violation that is reported. While states have the autonomy to control the entry and presence of all foreigners within their jurisdiction, they also have an obligation to establish norms safeguarding the human rights of all migrants with respect to border and migration.
Failure to resolve the pervasive human rights abuse might result in the denial of long-term benefits that migrants could offer the country.
Impact of migrants in South Africa
In South Africa, a number of people exhibit hostility to strangers dwelling among them due to prejudice against foreigners in the society. Nevertheless, only the highly skilled migrants are welcomed as their contribution is needed to bridge the chronic skill gap. However, skilled migrants are more likely to be employed elsewhere after settling down. It will be beneficial to resolve the pervasive human rights abuse and relax the stringent migration policies to encourage the inflow of interested migrants and the rationale is that their descendants would be trained to be skillful personnel that will build the future of the country. Migrants contributes tremendously to the economy of South Africa in the following ways:
Creation of more jobs: Migrants create a favorable effect on the economy of South Africa in respect of the creation of more jobs in the informal sector.
The rise in income per capital that the government obtained from migrants resulted from the high job opportunities from the growth in the population of the migrants.
It has been proven that migrants contribute to the stability of the South African economy as they tend to pay more taxes. Focusing on policies that will advance migrants’ integration will further enhance their positive impacts on the economy of South Africa.
South Africa is committed to unification and increasing involvement as the world becomes globalized, migration is, therefore, inevitable for South Africa which has a long history of migration of African migrants.
The response to migration is likely to deteriorate further and pose more migration threats if issues revolving around migration are not resolved as certain indigenes are not aware of the benefits of migration.
In conclusion, Protecting African Migrants’ rights in contemporary South Africa is paramount, given its status as a middle-income country, with solid democratic institutions and a comparatively industrialized economy. There is no misgiving that the influx will diminish in the future, as migrants have ties with their families and their country of origin. This can happen through repeat visits or cyclical migration, and this international mobility can help develop a network that will enhance international trade, innovation, expertise and higher economic advancement and technological progress.
Dr. Adefemi Obalade is a researcher, he writes in his own capacity.