The attacks on foreigners earlier this year in different parts of the country have made us more aware of refugees' problems. In line with our Constitution, everyone, including refugees, has the right to equal protection under the law.
More than 62 people, including 21 South Africans, died during the attacks on foreigners earlier this year.
Police arrested 273 people and 159 case dockets involving 927 suspects have been sent to special courts. These courts deal with cases relating to xenophobic attacks.
Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights of our Constitution says everyone is equal before the law. This also applies to immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights.
The basic rights of refugees include health services, education and accommodation, as well as protection under the law.
To help us understand refugees' rights, government has started education programmes. They aim to teach communities to respect and know the rights of foreigners in our country.
It is important to educate people about tolerance as this will help to prevent similar outbreaks of attacks in the future.
The Department of Home Affairs has set up a Counter-Xenophobia Unit, which educates people about tolerance and diversity. The department has also published an educational comic booklet encouraging people to accept and tolerate refugees. The South African Human Rights Commission and the University of Johannesburg have set up similar programmes.
People seeking refuge in this country should report to the closest Refugee Reception Centre within 14 days of arriving in the country.
They must complete application forms and must be willing to have their fingerprints taken. They also have to state in detail why they are seeking refugee status.
A trained refugee reception officer will help them with their applications.
After completing their application forms, they will be asked to return after 30 days to hear the outcome of their application.
People seeking refuge can only work in the country lawfully if they have a refugee permit.
- Mbulelo Baloyi