South Africa: UN expert calls for better protection of migrants

PRETORIA (1 February 2011) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante, praised South Africa for some of the measures it has taken to alleviate the impact of the economic crisis on migrants. However, at the end of a nine-day mission to the country*, he noted that the authorities are still facing a range of key challenges.

While describing South Africa as “a model for the continent,” Mr. Bustamante drew special attention to the need to “improve social cohesion and measures against discrimination, exploitation, a tendency by the police to ignore the rights of migrants, and the overall lack of a comprehensive immigration policy that incorporates human rights protection.”

The Special Rapporteur noted the Government’s efforts to address the seriousness of some of the human rights problems faced by migrant workers, in particular in the aftermath of the economic crisis and xenophobic attacks against migrants workers and their families, and made a number of preliminary recommendations to help improve the situation.

“South Africa should adopt a clear and comprehensive immigration policy which would go beyond managing the entry and stay of migrants,” the Special Rapporteur said. “It should establish institutionalized programmes designed to create the necessary conditions for the integration of migrants into South African society and the respect of their rights, including to work, health, housing and education, without discrimination.”

Mr. Bustamante also encouraged the authorities to further efforts to establish an institutional and regional strategy for Southern Africa on migration. “Such a comprehensive regional strategy would encompass the flow of labour migration and have a human rights-based approach in order to protect the rights of these migrants and their families.”

In order to improve the protection of migrants, the Special Rapporteur recommended a prompt ratification of the Convention on Migrant Workers, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture as well as the adoption of a Hate Crime Bill, which would further add aggravating circumstances in the case of acts of violence committed towards vulnerable groups.

The UN independent expert urged the Government to produce thorough data and statistics on migrants present in the country, needs of the labour market and demand for the services of migrant workers. “Only with clear and disaggregated statistics,” he said, “the South African authorities will be able to have a clearer picture of their foreign population and the needs of migrant workers for their economy and be able to plan accordingly for this.

Mr. Bustamante heard recurring complaints about the arrest and detention of foreign nationals who were undocumented or had overstayed their permit by Home Affairs officials while trying to present a renewal or a regularization demand or an asylum claim. He also heard complaints in relation to access to health care for migrant workers and their families, despite of the fact that emergency public health care in public hospitals is guaranteed for all, no matter their legal situation in the country.

The report of the Special Rapporteur’s visit to South Africa will be submitted to the United Nations' Human Rights Council later in the year.

Jorge A. Bustamante (Mexico), an expert in the field of international migrations, was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants by the former Commission on Human Rights in 2005. His mandate was extended by the Human Rights Council in 2008 to help states and others, promote and protect the human rights of migrants. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. His mandate covers all countries, irrespective of whether a State has ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur:

Learn more about the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge A. Bustamante:

OHCHR Country Page – South Africa:

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