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South Africa must accept Zimbabwean refugees: HRW report

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report [HRW materials; press release] Friday urging South Africa [JURIST news archive] to grant temporary asylum and work permits to Zimbabweans who have fled to the country. The group said that the South African Department of Home Affairs [official website] has mischaracterized the refugees fleeing "political repression and economic deprivation," as ordinary migrants and that massive government deportation efforts are in violation of international law. It calls on the government to legitimize the status of Zimbabweans in the country and to allow new refugees to enter legally:

The choice the South African government faces is difficult and stark. Either it continues to breach its fundamental obligations under international law and ignores the reality of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented Zimbabweans on its territory. To do this means allowing many to be mistreated by police, abused and exploited by employers, while many others are removed haphazardly, arbitrarily, expensively, and ineffectively to Zimbabwe (most returning back over the border within days or weeks)... Or the government can choose to regularize [the refugees'] stay.
The group said that government's harsh treatment of the Zimbabweans is ineffective and leads to public hostility and xenophobic attacks [HRW release] aimed at the refugees. AP has more.

South African Minister of Home Affairs Mapisa-Nqakula spoke at a government [speech text] conference in recognition of World Refugee Day [UN backgrounder] Friday. The Minister said the government was increasing efforts to determine the status of the refugees and that those granted asylum would enjoy certain rights, but stopped short of a wider declaration on the status of the Zimbabweans:
A new system has been put in place in order to improve the refugee determination processes. The new Asylum Registration System links all offices electronically to prevent duplication of applications and enhance turn around times. We have also appointed almost 200 staff members, including new managers, to beef up capacity in all 5 Asylum determination offices.
HRW blamed South Africa's refugee crisis on the failed economic policies of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and on political violence in the country. Earlier this week, Zimbabwe evicted a UN rights envoy [JURIST report] who had been sent to monitor the human rights situation following hotly-contested presidential elections [JURIST news archive].

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