Residents of Kagiso block roads with burning tires and rocks, during a protest against illegal mining and rising crime associated to the mining in the area, in Johannesburg, South Africa, 04 August 2022. Residents set ablaze the homes of migrants they believe are illegally working in disused local mines. EPA-EFE/STR


South Africa floats abandoning UN refugee treaties to curb immigration


South Africa has signalled its intention to withdraw from UN conventions in a bid to rein in immigration and return migrants to safe countries.

Aaron Motsoaledi, the Minister of Home Affairs for South Africa, wants to toughen the country’s asylum and immigration regulations as part of an effort to combat its migration problems.

The intentions of Motsoaledi were shared via a White Paper on Citizenship, Immigration and Refugee Protection: Towards A Complete Overhaul of the Migration System in South Africa.

One of the suggestions in the White Paper is that South Africa would temporarily withdraw from the 1951 United Nations Refugees Convention and the 1967 Protocol to the Status of Refugees for a period of time.

The ruling left-wing African National Congress (ANC) administration has stated that the country has to”press reset” on its current asylum and immigration policies.

It says the high number of migrants is costing the country too much money – and that cash is limited in Johannesburg.

Withdrawing from the UN treaties would likely afford the Government greater flexibility in controlling immigration along with not having to guarantee socio-economic rights to all migrants.

Asylum seekers who are not allowed to stay in South Africa could be sent back to their country of origin. At the same time, a Border Management Authority would be formed in order to combat illegal migration.

The proposal comes amid widespread dissatisfaction with the country’s current immigration policies, reinforcing the falling popularity of the ANC.

According to some polls, in the elections of 2024 the ANC might even lose the absolute majority it has enjoyed since the end of apartheid in the early 1990s.

The present permissive legislation on immigration is a product of that time, when the ANC took a pan-African stance on immigration in part to express gratitude to countries that had supported its struggle against apartheid.

Motsoaledi stated that those policies were now out of date and required a “radical overhaul”.

“On this continent, the winds of change have been blowing hard and fast,” he added. “Almost every week, a coup occurs somewhere in Africa.”

He pointed out that there are problematic gaps and loopholes in the current system and argued these have been exploited by human traffickers, criminals and economic migrants.

The White Paper states that these lead to “violent clashes” between foreign nationals and South Africans and that vigilantes are said to target undocumented migrants.

Foreigners are increasingly met with hostility as the country’s economy comes under increasing pressure. They are commonly accused of taking the jobs of locals, of criminal activity and depleting public services.

Critics claim the Government now is using the issue to deflect from its own mismanagement and its rhetoric risks further increasing anti-foreigner sentiment.

Human Rights Watch pointed to South Africa’s Constitution that “proudly proclaims that it was founded on the values of human dignity and that ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity’.”

The debate is reminiscent of those in Europe.

The British Government has indicated that it, too, may be willing to withdraw from international conventions supportive of migrants.

For this reason, the UK wants to leave the European Convention on Human Rights in order to implement its Rwanda migrant-relocation programme to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel.

That is despite the fact that the British Supreme Court on November 15 concluded that the Government’s plans to send arrivals to Rwanda were illegal, citing violations of international and human rights laws.