Foreign nationals from the continent are welcome in the country and should be treated with dignity, since not all were in the country illegally.
These were the words of President Jacob Zuma when he officially opened the revamped refugee reception centre in Marabastad, Pretoria, on Friday, under the new name the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Centre.
He emphasised that government was taking action against illegal immigrants. However, foreign nationals were welcome as their “much-needed skills” contributed to the growing economy.
“Let me also remind our people that not all foreign nationals are in the country illegally, which is sometimes the view of some frustrated South Africans. Government is taking action against illegal migration and all processes are aimed at ensuring that the process becomes transparent and legal, and that government is able to register genuine refugees and assist them, and send back those who are taking chances.”
Government last year began refurbishing the centre after disgruntled foreign nationals complained of corruption, insufficient staff, slow IT systems, long queues, and overcrowding. Allegations of criminal syndicates were also reported.
The centre now has new counters, lighting, security systems and electric fencing. Other interventions include an automated booking system, off-site interpretation services and an improved registry system, said Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba.
He said naming the centre after Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was to remember his fight for human rights and freedom in the country, which would challenge the department to do more for human solidarity.
“This is a great day for the Department of Home Affairs because, for the first time, we have associated with such a significant and weighted name. We must continue to strive to serve all of those who interact with the department in a human way to align ourselves with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
Meanwhile, Corruption Watch called on home affairs to collaborate in handling the corruption complaints system to help improve the refugee application process.
“Whistle-blowers confirmed to Corruption Watch that as refugees and asylum seekers, they would not report corruption via [the department’s] reporting channels for fear of reprisal and the effect on their application or status in the country,” it said.