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End of mission statement - 1 February 2011, UN migrants rights expert praises South Africa as a model for the continent and also stresses the need to increase protection of migrants

02 February 2011

PRETORIA - The UN expert on migrants’ human rights praised South Africa for some of the measures it has taken to alleviate the impact of the economic crisis on migrants. However, he noted that it is still facing a range of challenges, including improving 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 UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. Jorge Bustamante, was speaking at the end of a nine-day visit to South Africa, conducted at the invitation of the Government of South Africa in order to observe and report on the human rights situation of migrants in the country.

In Pretoria, Johannesburg, Musina and Cape Town, the Special Rapporteur met with Government Ministers, Members of Parliament, officials of central and provincial governments, the United Nations Country Team (UNCT), lawyers, academics, members of civil society organizations, as well as migrants in South Africa. He also visited the Lindela Repatriation Centre, the Beitbridge Border facility and met with migrants’ associations.

The Special Rapporteur expressed appreciation to the Government for its cooperation in facilitating   meetings with all the authorities requested, and to conduct private interviews with migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers whenever requested. He also expressed his appreciation to the UNCT, in particular the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the South African civil society for their support for his mission.

The Special Rapporteur was made aware of the strong Constitutional and legal guarantees which protect all persons in South Africa against deprivation of liberty and the progressive enumeration of social and economical rights which make no discrimination for access to State’s services such as health care, education and social security. In this regard, he 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. He cited, as positive examples, the recent initiative to allow regularization of Zimbabwean nationals, which had been extended together with a moratorium of repatriation and plans to consider such an initiative with other neighboring countries.

The Special Rapporteur noted also the absence of an anti-immigrant stance amongst the political discourse and welcomes the Government’s handling of previous xenophobic violence.

The Special Rapporteur listed some of the most important issues, along with some preliminary recommendations on how to improve the situation:

  • South Africa should adopt a clear and comprehensive immigration policy which would go beyond managing the entry and stay of migrants. 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.
  • The Special Rapporteur noted the SADC Protocol on the Facilitation of the Movement of Persons, but also noted the absence of an institutional and regional strategy for Southern Africa on migration. He would encourage further efforts towards achieving such a comprehensive regional strategy which 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.
  • The Special Rapporteur is concerned about the absence of thorough data and statistics concerning not only migrants present in the country but also the needs of the labour market and demand for the services of migrant workers. Only with clear and disaggregated statistics will the South African authorities 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.
  • The Special Rapporteur encourages South Africa for 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 Special Rapporteur 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. Many of these were then detained awaiting deportation, although it seemed that their right to due process had not been duly implemented and that they had not been informed of their right to appeal of the decision.
  • The Special Rapporteur found the practice to outsource the catering and security of the Lindela Repatriation Centre to a private security and operations company unusual, although it seemed, at the time of his visit, that the facility was properly and smoothly run. Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur heard also complaints regarding appropriate health care not being provided to migrants in detention centres, and the lack of effective mechanisms to monitor human rights violations occurring in detention centres, and to examine complaints.
  • The Special Rapporteur also heard complaints in relation to access to health care for migrant workers and their families. While the Special Rapporteur was informed that emergency public health care in public hospitals is guaranteed for all, no matter their legal situation in the country, he was informed of differences of practices depending on the province, municipality or hospital involved. He therefore calls for a full implementation of the right to health care for all those in need, with no discrimination on their migratory status.

            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.

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

OHCHR Country Page – South Africa:

For more information and media requests, please contact Niraj Dawadi (Tel.:+ 27 12 354 86 84 / email: [email protected])