It is too early to say whether the country is going to have a blanket approach to repatriation or amnesty when dealing with the high numbers of “irregularised” foreigners in South Africa.
Dr Clinton Swemmer, acting co-ordinator for intelligence in the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee, was addressing the ad hoc committee that is probing violence against foreigners.
Swemmer, with Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, addressed Parliament on Tuesday on the country’s migration policy, the root causes of violence against foreigners and government’s responses to some of these challenges.
Swemmer said there are high numbers of foreigners – about 2.5 million – in the country illegally. But simply repatriating all of them is not a solution.
“We, as government, are going to have to move carefully in dealing with this matter because many foreigners are integrated into our communities. They have married South Africans, they have families.”
He said foreigners’ rights as members of communities have to be respected and a well-thought-out approach is needed to deal with the numbers.
“The department of home affairs’ review of our migration policy is going to give us the key in terms of how we deal with this. It would be premature at this time to say we are going to have a blanket approach to repatriation or we are going to have an amnesty.”
Radebe said the inter-ministerial committee, set up after the outbreak of violence against foreigners in the country earlier this year, had concluded that South Africans are not xenophobic.
He said he hoped the committee, which has to give its report to Parliament by November 20, would agree with this.
The socioeconomic impact of the high numbers of particularly low-skilled foreigners living in the country is the primary cause of the violence, he said.
Detailing some of the most popular entry points into the country, Radebe said most Nigerians enter through OR Tambo airport, while Pakistanis and Bangladesh nationals sometimes make use of international criminal syndicates to enter South Africa.
“Mozambique is a concern in terms of being the hub where syndicates facilitate the illegal entry of criminals into South Africa. This is followed by Lesotho and Zimbabwe.”