Millions of people in SA remain stateless

South Africa would make bigger strides in securing its population register and protecting national security if it focused its attention on preventing statelessness, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) has said.

Stateless people – those who are not recognised as nationals by any country and can often not be deported because of this – form a shadow population of millions of people in South Africa.

LHR has called on the Department of Home Affairs to reconsider its position that the principles of two Statelessness Conventions require further consideration before South Africa can adopt them.

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, head of LHR’s Refugee and Migrants Rights Programme, said Home Affairs Minister Fatima Chohan’s statement at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees executive committee meeting in Switzerland last week that the conventions required further consideration was directly in conflict with earlier statements before the same body where South Africa undertook to sign both conventions.

“I was present in Geneva in December 2011 when the deputy minister pledged support for these treaties, so we are flabbergasted by South Africa’s back-tracking on these commitments”, she said.

The two conventions regarding stateless persons were adopted by the United Nations in 1954 and 1961 and include provisions intended to reduce and eliminate the phenomenon of persons with no access to nationality and citizenship in any country in the world.

She said the issue was all the more urgent considering the Home Affairs minister’s intention to completely do away with late registration of birth, potentially leaving children in South Africa whose parents did not register them within 30 days of birth with no access to documentation and the benefits of South African citizenship for the rest of their lives.

LHR also asked the Department of Home Affairs to ensure that South Africa not only followed the majority of governments in their efforts to eliminate statelessness, but also follow our own constitutional duty to ensure that every child had the right to a name and nationality from birth.

Attorney Liesl Muller of Lawyers for Human Rights’ Refugee and Migrant Rights Project said given its strong human rights record, progressive Constitution and high numbers of migrants, South Africa must take the lead on the issue of statelessness.

She said a lack of legislation on statelessness, how to determine if a person was stateless and how to deal with it was one of the biggest problems facing South Africa.

Another problem was that the Home Affairs officials dealing with such issues were not adequately trained and did not implement the legislation that was already in place.

“Home Affairs is in such a state that there’s no justice. Officials are not educated on the laws and show people away or give them the wrong advice so that administrative justice is not done.

“…Local Home Affairs offices have no clue what people’s rights are. They just do what they want and often ignore court orders. We would love to work with them and provide training instead of having to take them to court,” Muller said.

LHR also recommended an expansion of the Immigration Act to accommodate the issuing of permanent residence exemptions to people identified as stateless and eventually new legislation to provide a framework for identifying and protecting stateless persons.