The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees provides the internationally recognised general definition of a refugee as “…a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.
Legally speaking, a person who flees for safety to another country and then applies for refugee Status, is an asylum seeker. In terms of the South African law, that person remains an asylum seeker until he or she is officially recognised as a refugee. This recognition may take months or years. It is important to note that from the point of view of international laws, a refugee Status is not dependent on the official determination or declaration by a sovereign State. In international law, if a person objectively meets the criteria of a refugee as defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, that person is a refugee. This is the difference between the broader definition of refugee in international law and a narrower definition in the South African law.
The GI ADVISORY visits a refugee camp in Pretoria.
Against this background, it is crucial for a researcher who is studying migration and for migration officials in South Africa to be aware of the difference between the international laws and national laws relating to the status and recognition of refugees. What is particularly important is the understanding that member-countries of the United Nations are legally obligated to confirm the refugee Status of a migrant, but they do not hold the determining power of a refugee Status in terms of international law. Because of its narrower definition of refugee, South Africa has been criticised by some non-governmental organisations and the United Nations for failing or refusing to deal with displaced people as refugees in terms of national laws.
As the continent observes this Africa Day, the GI ADVISORY wishes to bring to light the importance to understand the plight of displaced people on the African continent and how desperate these people are for acceptance in receiving countries. The GI ADVISORY is available for workshops, full presentations and lectures in migration, as well as advisory services to individuals, groups of people and organisations. These services can be offered virtually or in person for a reasonable fee.