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SA facing immigration crisis, government must step in

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Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA) – We definitely have a problem with the influx of foreign nationals into the country, both illegal and legal, which has detrimental implications for many aspects of the state, says the writer.

By Kgaogelo Marvin Sithale

The issue of illegal immigration is currently a very sensitive yet necessary talking point in South Africa. The reason it remains a sensitive matter is due to the country’s history of xenophobic events, like the May 2008 series of attacks that left over 60 people dead, and other xenophobic-motivated moments that continue to be recorded.

These events have polarised general opinions about migration, any comment is either tagged xenophobic or non-xenophobic. There are many misconceptions, dismissals, and some elements of truth in the general public’s opinions about this crisis.

One misconception is that illegal immigrants are the major cause of the increasing challenges in the country. They are made scapegoats for South Africa’s poverty, crime, and unemployment.

Individuals and civil societies that have this misinformed view normally resort to violence and take matters into their own hands to deal with the issue.

On the other hand, there are “Advocates for Amnesty” who think our borders must be governed with compassion. This group refuses to acknowledge the negative impact of illegal immigration on any country.

It refuses to admit that amnesty will assist smugglers and human traffickers in their illegal immigration and exploitation activities. This will help people who seek to circumvent immigration controls through the arrangement of bogus marriages and the threat it poses to the economy.

But these two views can be partially true. We can be a nation of compassion but also be a nation of laws. We must discard the single narrative mindset, that will help us provide realistic and constructive inputs.

The truth is, we definitely have a problem with the influx of foreign nationals into the country, both illegal and legal, which has detrimental implications for many aspects of the state.

Statistics South Africa estimated the number of immigrants-regardless of legal status-at over 3.9 million. They cannot possibly count illegal immigrants among that number. The fact that we don’t actually know how many “undocumented” migrants are in the country is a problem on its own.

Post-apartheid, immigration became massive in South Africa because it was regarded as an emerging economy in countries such as Brazil, India, and Malaysia. Because of that status, it became a destination for migrants from African countries and different parts of the world.

But we must sadly admit that the country no longer has the capacity or potential to attract and host thousands of migrants pouring in.

The problems abound. Unemployment is skyrocketing, increasingly people rely on debt – which means we’re getting poorer as a nation – state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are collapsing (with the government shifting funds away from productive spending to bail out these SOEs), corruption, crime rates, and alarming violence (more women were killed in the last quarter of 2021 compared to the same period the previous year), townships are becoming overpopulated with declining service delivery and more informal settlements are forming.

These problems were not created by migrants. If there’s any blame, then it should be directed at the incompetent ANC government, which seems to be committed to failure until the country collapses to its knees.

But it is also true that an uncontrolled influx of immigrants adds more weight to some of the challenges we are already facing.

Every country allocates budgets and resources based on the population they serve. Illegal immigration is a burden and causes serious challenges in the provision of basic services and accommodation to residents. How does the government plan if they don’t have an idea of who is in the country?

The crumbs that South African citizens receive from the tables of greedy politicians have to be shared with an unknown number of undocumented migrants. In such a set up, tension cannot be avoided in the country.

I condemn xenophobia in all its forms. But I want to emphasise that illegal immigration has reached a crisis level. Populists and opposition politicians have realised this crisis, and they are watching the government tip-toeing around it, that is why they are using it to campaign, causing division in communities because some state organs are still in denial.

What should be the approach?

First, citizens should not take matters into their own hands. Civilians are not trained nor qualified to identify illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants should not be attacked. That will just divert attention from the real problem. Violent actions cannot go unquestioned.

I was listening to the comments of some community members on this matter, and some of these people don’t even have an idea of what an illegal immigrant is. To these people, an illegal foreigner is either someone who doesn’t have a South African ID or someone who speaks a different language or any foreigner within the borders.

If the government continues putting its head in the sand, it gives a platform for such people to take it upon themselves to deal with the crisis, which will lead to more xenophobic and tribal attacks.

It is not xenophobic to ensure that immigrants who are welcomed into our country do so lawfully and respect the rights of legitimate refugees and asylum seekers.

Unfortunately, South Africans like Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, and Herman Mashaba, who acknowledge this crisis, are often gaslighted and classified as xenophobic hooligans who have a deep hatred for all immigrants.

Border security is not a South African thing. Even South Africans who travel to other countries are mandated to do so lawfully.

The current unemployment problems have led many of South Africa’s youth to flock to other countries for better opportunities. When listening to these young people, one thing in common is that they travel after attaining work permits and signing relevant papers. That’s how immigration works all over the world.

The state, municipalities, and the Department of Home Affairs must work together. First assess the severity of this matter with honesty. Understand the number of illegal immigrants in the country. After getting that picture, apply possible government policies to solve the issue.

The Refugees Act, for example, protects people who come from a country where their lives and physical safety are threatened and some Acts protect children and women who have been trafficked into the country.

The state has resources to cater for such immigrants.

Also, deportation must be done, in accordance with the law (Sections 32 and 34 of the Immigration Act), for dealing with those who illegally enter the country or unlawfully overstay a temporary visa.

The large number of people wishing to immigrate into the country cannot exceed the visas that we are normally prepared to grant.

Sithale is a Metallurgy graduate and a Blogger who uses social media platforms to bring socio-political awareness.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.