U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - South Africa

South Africa hosted some 23,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 1996. About 3,000 of them were classified as refugees by UNHCR, including some 2,000 from Angola, about 1,000 from Somalia, and 300 from other countries. Asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their asylum application in South Africa at year's end included 4,000 from Angola, 2,600 from Nigeria, 2,500 from Zaire, 2,400 from Somalia, plus others. More than 15,000 people applied for asylum in South Africa in 1996. Some 500,000 South Africans remained internally displaced. Official Documents South Africa signed the OAU Refugee Convention in December 1995 and formally acceded to the UN Refugee Convention in January 1996. In July, South Africa signed a Memorandum of Agreement with UNHCR on standardization of regional refugee policies. The government began working with UNHCR to formulate a Refugee Act, which is expected to be completed in 1997. The South African government and UNHCR completed the repatriation of refugees to neighboring Mozambique in May 1996. On December 31, 1996, UNHCR invoked the "cessation clause" for Mozambican refugees worldwide – meaning that the conditions that originally caused most refugees to flee Mozambique had ceased to exist, in UNHCR's view. The South African government announced that Mozambican refugees who entered South Africa before the Mozambique peace accord of September 1991 would be offered permanent residence in South Africa in 1997. An estimated 90,000 Mozambicans remained in South Africa at the end of the year. Asylum and Immigration In 1995, the government passed new legislation to make citizenship more difficult to acquire, reflecting a surge of xenophobia within some sections of society. The government continued to take strong measures against illegal immigration in 1996, deporting up to 150,000 people, usually without regard to the deportees' right to a hearing. About 70 percent of those deported during the year came from Mozambique. In February 1996, the South African government passed an amnesty law allowing undocumented immigrants from Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mauritius who had been resident in South Africa for five years or more to become legal residents. Some 10,000 out of an estimated one million "illegal" immigrants took advantage of this amnesty in 1996. Asylum seekers and refugees in South Africa staged at least two public demonstrations during the year. On June 20, between 30 and 200 asylum seekers and refugees from Zaire and Ethiopia protested poor living conditions and harassment of refugees outside the South African Red Cross offices in Johannesburg. A second demonstration "sit-in" in July by 500 to 600 asylum seekers and refugees from several African countries outside the offices of UNHCR in Pretoria lasted two days. The demonstrators were protesting what they considered an unfair asylum procedure. Many were demanding respite from deportation after their applications for asylum had been rejected. UNHCR held that the asylum decisions were fair and rejected their demands. In December, four Angolan refugees won a legal battle at the Capetown Supreme Court over the Department of Home Affairs' (DHA) failure to explain officially why it rejected their asylum applications. The rejected asylum seekers won the right to receive information from the DHA about their claims so that they could lodge an appeal within the stipulated seven days. Internal Displacement Following the electoral victories of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) in 1994, South Africa continued in 1996 to try to rectify the inequalities of apartheid, including the country's legacy of uneven land distribution, homelessness, and displacement, through its five-year Land Reform Program. Some 3.5 million people were forcibly displaced in South Africa under apartheid between 1960 and 1980. The majority of those displaced appear to have no realistic prospects of reclaiming their old land or gaining new land because of the government's limited resources and competing societal needs. Many of those who were displaced from their property during apartheid have reintegrated into other areas, and may no longer consider themselves displaced, despite their poverty. The Land Claims Court, established under the 1994 Restitution of Land Rights Act, received some 5,000 claims in 1995 and an undetermined number in 1996. South Africa experienced continued violence during 1996, particularly in troubled KwaZulu-Natal province. Political violence between supporters of the ruling ANC and the secessionist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) killed 463 people and continued to cause population displacement in the province. However, the number of killings in the province was reportedly 55 percent lower than the previous year, and much lower than in 1994. In the month prior to the 1994 elections, KwaZulu-Natal suffered a death toll of 338 people. By contrast, in the month prior to the June 1996 elections, 55 people were killed. Observers noted that the reduced violence was due to proactive policing, special investigation units, and a willingness by politicians to abide by the electoral code of conduct. The province's election results, which showed strong rural support for the IFP and urban support for the ANC, were accepted peacefully. A 1994 study estimated that 500,000 of the province's nine million population remained displaced. In 1996, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) of South Africa reported some instances where villagers fled violence, but overall, virtually no significant new displacement occurred during the year. According to the HRC, political attacks in 1996 were more targeted than in previous years. There were no reports of indiscriminate attacks by large groups, which had previously caused large population displacement. Thousands of people in the region remained displaced, however, and attempts to return home by certain groups of displaced persons, particularly those with political associations, caused increased tension and violence in several communities, such as the KwaXolo area in the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal province.

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