DURBAN - The National Migration and Urbanisation Conference which began on Monday and culminates on Friday unearthed problems migrants faced in South Africa.
The Department of Social Development, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) and Red Cross launched the National Migration and Urbanisation Forum for the exchange of views on migration.
The 2020 mid-year population figures published by Stats SA estimate that there are 3.9 million migrants in South Africa. According to Unicef, in the latest data snapshot of migrant and displaced children in Africa, more than 642 000 migrant or displaced children live in South Africa.
Career researchers and students were asked to submit feedback in January 2020 on five key themes. These include data and statistics; international migration; internal migration and urbanisation; and substantive issues around migration and policy issues.
Researchers said employment opportunities, adequate earnings stability and security of work were some of the factors leading to migration.
Princelle Dasappa, a demographer at Stats SA, spoke of challenging the narrative on migration and migrants in South Africa. She said the narrative on migrants in South Africa included that foreigners were stealing jobs from South Africans, Afrophobia, xenophobia, the looting of foreign-owned shops and calls to repair the Beitbridge border crossing between Zimbabwe and South Africa. She said there wasa lot of “false rhetoric“ – being the narrative of migrants taking the jobs of South Africans.
“We need to understand the phenomenon better. At the back of our mind we are aware of lighter skinned migrants from the UK, Germany and elsewhere, but this does not feature in the narrative on migrants in South Africa,” Dasappa said.
She said that from 2012 to 2017 a higher proportion of migrants moved to find work or to start a business.
“During these years employment decreased for both the South African and foreign-born population.
“However, employment is consistently higher for migrants because they were employed in the informal sector where there were little or no safety nets, including Unemployment Insurance Fund, contracts and the no work, no pay principle,” she said.
Chief research specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council, Emmanuel Owusu-Sekyere, conducted a case study titled “Voices of Critical Skilled Migrants”.
He described African countries as the “grocery shop” of developed countries in their search for the best and brightest.
South Africa was incapable of replacing skills at the same pace as they were lost, he said. He spoke of how South Africa could enhance its competitiveness and attractiveness to attract, recruit and retain critical skills.
“There is no national level, well-co-ordinated mechanism and framework for actually head hunting, recruiting and taking control of the scenario in terms of getting what we are looking for, and also retaining what we have to compete with to keep them in South Africa. There is no database,” Owusu-Sekyere said.
Touching on the topic of unaccompanied and separated foreign children in South Africa in child and youth care centres, the barriers and opportunities, Sally Gander, head of advocacy and legal adviser, said that without mechanisms in place the result was increased vulnerability for this group of children.
Gander said there was no certainty for them and it undermined the protection offered by the Children’s Protection Act.
“The act does not speak to, or there is no conversation happening between, that piece of legislation and the pieces of legislation that are used in order to provide documentation for the Immigration Status Act.
“There are overdue regulations that need to be passed into law in terms of the Citizenship Act.
“There needs to be a special dispensation that would provide a route to documentation for these children,” she said.