Refugees’ access to socio-sconomic rights: Favourable treatment for the protection of human dignity

Kavuro, Callixte (2018-12)

Thesis (LLD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The thesis deals with the question whether and to what extent refugees and asylumseekers are entitled to socio-economic rights and benefits. This is a controversial question, which is complicated by the co-existence of different bodies of law which apply to the treatment of non-citizens, in general, and refugees and asylum-seekers, in particular. On the one hand, South Africa has acceded to international refugee treaties and incorporated these treaties into its legal system through the Refugees Act 130 of 1998 (as amended) (―Refugees Act‖). This Act provides that refugees are entitled to all rights in the Bill of Rights, except those rights that are expressly reserved for citizens. Sections 26 and 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 provide that ―everyone‖ has the right of access to adequate housing, and access to health care services, sufficient food and water, and social security. This seems to indicate that refugees and asylum-seekers are entitled to the socioeconomic rights enshrined in the Constitution. The Refugees Act, read through the lens of these constitutional provisions, signals South Africa‘s intention to offer effective protection to refugees and asylum-seekers, to respond to their suffering and to restore their self-reliance, participation, and agency. It does so, inter alia, by extending to them the right to have access to subsidised socio-economic goods and services. On the other hand, refugees and asylum-seekers are, in practice, excluded from certain socio-economic rights. This exclusion stems from a number of factors. First, they are treated as temporary residents in terms of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002. For this reason, the twin principles of self-sufficiency and exclusivity are often applied to them. In terms of these principles, non-citizens are generally admitted into South Africa on the condition that they are self-supportive and self-reliant. Moreover, they are precluded from accessing socio-economic programmes designed to support citizens who are vulnerable to poverty. Secondly, legislation conferring socioeconomic rights and benefits often restricts those rights to citizens and permanent residents. The legislation is thus not aligned with the Refugees Act. Thirdly, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 (―the Geneva Refugee Convention‖) provides, in certain respects, for the same treatment of refugees as accorded to non-citizens in the same circumstances as refugees, or as accorded to non-citizens generally. Fourthly, the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, 1969 (―the African Refugee Convention‖) requires a host state to alleviate refugees‘ misery and suffering as well as to offer them opportunities to achieve a better life and future. The thesis criticises the idea that refugees and asylum-seekers are entitled to socio-economic rights on the basis of the standard of the same treatment accorded to non-citizens. This standard is problematic, in so far as there is no other group of non-citizens whose circumstances correspond to those of refugees and asylumseekers. Moreover, the standard legitimises the application of the twin principles of exclusivity and self-sufficiency, as contemplated by immigration law, to refugees and asylum-seekers. The thesis criticises the exclusionary approach on the basis of emerging theories, norms, standards and practices, as emanating from international refugee law, human rights law, constitutional law, domestic refugee law and foreign and international jurisprudence. It examines the vulnerability of refugees, and argues that the rights flowing from refugee status demand special and differentiated treatment from that accorded to non-citizens generally. The Refugees Act was specifically adopted to exempt refugees and asylum-seekers from the emphasis, in immigration law, on exclusion and self-reliance, and to afford them special, favourable or differentiated treatment to ensure the protection of their well-being, health and dignity. For that reason, refugee principles should be given priority over immigration principles. The thesis examines refugees and asylum-seekers‘ entitlement to socio-economic rights through the prism of the constitutional rights and values of human dignity and equality, and with reference to the standards of same treatment and favourable treatment, as used in the Geneva Refugee Convention . It argues, first, that the right and value of human dignity requires that all human beings should be in a position to live their lives in accordance with the ends that they freely chose, or as autonomous agents who have the ability to define their own destiny. No-one should be reduced to a mere object of state power, or be left without the resources needed to pursue reasonable choices or to meet their own needs. Given the unique position and vulnerability of refugees and asylum-seekers, the state is under both a negative obligation to desist from conduct that would interfere with the exercise of their rights, and a positive obligation to create conditions in which they can participate in economic and social life. Secondly, the thesis draws on the distinction between formal and substantive equality, and argues that the rights of refugees and asylum seekers should be read through the prism of substantive equality. This could help enable an approach which recognises their vulnerability, and affords them differentiated and favourable treatment. The thesis focuses on three rights: the right of access to public relief and assistance, healthcare and adequate housing. A detailed analysis is offered of the extent to which refugees and asylum-seekers are given these rights, or are excluded from their protection. The national laws granting and regulating these rights are examined, in view of refugee law, international human rights, the South African Constitution, and foreign law. To the extent that these laws exclude refugees and asylum-seekers from socio-economic rights and benefits, the thesis analyses the constitutionality of these exclusions. Recommendations are also made for the amendment of certain distributive laws, to harmonise them with the Constitution and the Refugees Act. These laws include the Housing Act 107 of 1997, the National Health Act 61 of 2003, the Social Assistance Act 13 of 2004, and related policies and strategies.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die proefskrif handel oor die vraag of en in watter mate vlugtelinge en asielsoekers op sosio-ekonomiese regte en voordele geregtig is. Dit is 'n omstrede vraag, wat bemoeilik word deur die bestaan van verskillende vertakkinge van die reg wat van toepassing is op die behandeling van nie-burgers, in die algemeen, en veral vlugtelinge en asielsoekers. Aan die een kant het Suid-Afrika internasionale vlugtelingeverdrae geratifiseer en hierdie verdrae in sy regstelsel geïnkorporeer deur die Wet op Vlugtelinge 130 van 1998 (soos gewysig) ("Wet op Vlugtelinge"). Hierdie Wet bepaal dat vlugtelinge op alle regte in die Handves van Regte geregtig is, behalwe die regte wat uitdruklik vir burgers gereserveer word. Artikels 26 en 27 van die Grondwet van die Republiek van Suid-Afrika, 1996 bepaal dat "elkeen" die reg het op toegang tot voldoende behuising, en toegang tot gesondheidsorgdienste, voldoende voedsel en water en maatskaplike sekerheid. Dit blyk dat vlugtelinge en asielsoekers geregtig is op die sosio-ekonomiese regte wat in die Grondwet vervat is. Die Wet op Vlugtelinge, gelees deur die lens van hierdie grondwetlike bepalings, dui op Suid-Afrika se voorneme om effektiewe beskerming aan vlugtelinge en asielsoekers te bied, om te reageer op hul lyding en om hul selfstandigheid, deelname en agentskap te herstel. Dit doen dit onder meer deur hulle die reg te gee om toegang te verkry tot gesubsidieerde sosio-ekonomiese goedere en dienste. Aan die ander kant word vlugtelinge en asielsoekers in die praktyk uitgesluit van sekere sosio-ekonomiese regte. Hierdie uitsluiting kom voort uit 'n aantal faktore. Eerstens word hulle ingevolge die Immigrasiewet 13 van 2002 as tydelike inwoners beskou. Om hierdie rede word die dubbele beginsels van selfversorgendheid en eksklusiwiteit dikwels op hulle toegepas. Ingevolge hierdie beginsels word nieburgers gewoonlik in Suid-Afrika toegelaat op voorwaarde dat hulle selfonderhoudend en selfstandig is. Daarbenewens is hulle uitgesluit van toegang tot sosio-ekonomiese programme wat ontwerp is om burgers wat kwesbaar vir armoede is, te ondersteun. Tweedens beperk wetgewing wat sosio-ekonomiese regte en voordele toeken, dikwels daardie regte tot burgers en permanente inwoners. Die wetgewing is dus nie in lyn met die Wet op Vlugtelinge nie. In die derde plek maak die Konvensie oor die Status van Vlugtelinge, 1951 ("die Geneefse Vlugtelinge Konvensie") in sekere opsigte voorsiening vir dieselfde behandeling van vlugtelinge as die behandeling wat aan nie-burgers wat in dieselfde omstandighede as vlugtelinge verkeer, of aan nie-burgers in die algemeen, verleen word. Vierdens vereis die OAE Konvensie oor die Spesifieke Aspekte van Vlugtelingeprobleme in Afrika, 1969 ("die Afrika Vlugtelingekonvensie"), dat 'n gasheerstaat die ellende en lyding van vlugtelinge verlig, asook aan hulle geleenthede bied om 'n beter lewe en toekoms te bewerkstellig. Die proefskrif kritiseer die idee dat vlugtelinge en asielsoekers op sosioekonomiese regte geregtig is op grond van die standaard van dieselfde behandeling wat aan nie-burgers verleen word. Hierdie standaard is problematies, want daar is geen ander groep nie-burgers wie se omstandighede ooreenstem met dié van vlugtelinge en asielsoekers nie. Daarbenewens verleen dié standaard legitimiteit aan die toepassing van die dubbele beginsels van eksklusiwiteit en selfversorging, soos beoog in die Immigrasiewet, op vlugtelinge en asielsoekers. Die proefskrif kritiseer die uitsluitingsbenadering op grond van opkomende teorieë, norme, standaarde en praktyke, wat voortspruit uit die internasionale reg ten aansien van vlugtelinge, menseregteverdrae, staatsreg, munisipale reg ten aansien van vlugtelinge, buitelandse reg en volkeregtelike beginsels. Dit ondersoek die kwesbaarheid van vlugtelinge, en argumenteer dat die regte wat uit vlugtelingstatus voortspruit, spesiale en gedifferensieerde behandeling vereis, met ander woorde behandeling wat verskil van dié wat aan nie-burgers in die algemeen verleen word. Die Wet op Vlugtelinge is spesifiek aangeneem om vlugtelinge en asielsoekers vry te stel van die klem wat in immigrasiewetgewing op uitsluiting en selfstandigheid geplaas word, en om hulle spesiale, gunstige of gedifferensieerde behandeling te bied om die beskerming van hul welsyn, gesondheid en waardigheid te verseker. Om hierdie rede moet vlugtelinge-beginsels prioriteit kry bo immigrasie-beginsels. Die proefskrif ondersoek vlugtelinge en asielsoekers se aanspraak op sosioekonomiese regte deur die prisma van die grondwetlike regte en waardes van menswaardigheid en gelykheid, en met verwysing na die standaarde vir dieselfde behandeling en gunstige behandeling, soos gebruik in die Vlugtelinge Konvensie. Dit argumenteer in die eerste plek dat die reg en waarde van menswaardigheid vereis dat alle mense in staat moet wees om hul lewens te leef ooreenkomstig die doelwitte wat hulle vryelik verkies het, of as outonome agente wat die vermoë het om hul eie lot te definieer. Niemand moet verminder word tot 'n blote voorwerp van staatsmag, of gelaat word sonder die nodige hulpbronne om redelike keuses te maak of om in hul eie behoeftes te voorsien nie. Gegewe die unieke posisie en kwesbaarheid van vlugtelinge en asielsoekers, is die staat onder beide 'n negatiewe verpligting om hom te weerhou van optrede wat met die uitoefening van hul regte inmeng, en 'n positiewe verpligting om omstandighede te skep waarin hulle kan deelneem aan ekonomiese en sosiale lewe. Tweedens steun die proefskrif op die onderskeid tussen formele en substantiewe gelykheid, en argumenteer dat die regte van vlugtelinge en asielsoekers deur die prisma van substantiewe gelykheid gelees moet word. Dit kan help om 'n benadering daar te stel wat hul kwesbaarheid erken, en hulle gedifferensieerde en gunstige behandeling bied. Die proefskrif fokus op drie regte: die reg op toegang tot openbare verligting en hulp, gesondheidsorg en voldoende behuising. 'n Gedetailleerde analise word gebied oor die mate waarin vlugtelinge en asielsoekers hierdie regte kry, of uitgesluit word van hul beskerming. Die nasionale wette wat hierdie regte verleen en reguleer, word ondersoek in die lig van die reg insake vlugtelinge, internasionale menseregte, die Suid-Afrikaanse Grondwet en buitelandse reg. In soverre hierdie wette vlugtelinge en asielsoekers uitsluit van sosio-ekonomiese regte en voordele, ontleed die proefskrif die grondwetlikheid van hierdie uitsluitings. Aanbevelings word ook gemaak vir die wysiging van sekere wette wat met die verdeling van hulpbronne te doen het, om hulle te harmoniseer met die Grondwet en die Wet op Vlugtelinge. Hierdie wette sluit in die Wet op Behuising 107 van 1997, die Wet op Nasionale Gesondheid 61 van 2003, die Wet op Maatskaplike Bystand 13 van 2004, en verwante beleid en strategieë.

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