South Africans have been urged to eschew xenophobia and open up to refugees.
The call comes on the heels of the xenophobic attacks in 2015 which targeted migrants from other African countries.
The advise was given at a commemorative event held by the UNHCR and South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs to mark World Refugee Day (June 20) at the refugee center in Soweto.
The constitution and the bill of rights, in particular, it doesn't just apply to citizens of the country, it applies to everyone who lives in it, and I think we really need to promote that.
As at 2012, South Africa was the leading destination for asylum seekers having received more asylum seekers than any country in the world.
The number of asylum seekers peaked at 222,3000 in 2009 as against 47,000 asylum requests received by the US in the same year.
The country also had an estimated 65,881 refugees in 2014.
A survey suggests 64 percent of South Africans would like to protect and accept foreigners.
But this is hampered by severe domestic public security concerns which has made it increasingly difficult for other African nationals to obtain legal status in Africa’s most industrialised country.
“Obvious challenges that we face are the usual ones [when] we have (been) without documentation. If I am not documented, I am very easily taken for granted, to say, like when it comes to the payment and other stuff. I’ll take whatever comes” said a Zimbabwean refugee who lives at the refugee center in Soweto.
The center caters of people who do not have documentation to get employed.
Eden Esterhnizen, a researcher with the South African Human Rights Commission says the country needs to reconsider its policy on migration.
“I think we need to maintain in our country a commitment to our international commitments to protecting refugees and migrants and to maintain a human rights-based approach to migration in the country,” Esterhnizen said.
She added that it is important for South Africa “to remember that the constitution and the bill of rights, in particular, it doesn’t just apply to citizens of the country, it applies to everyone who lives in it, and I think we really need to promote that.”
South Africa is deemed to have one of the most progressive asylum laws in the world as it grants migrants and refugees access to public services.