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2014 UNHCR country operations profile - South Africa

| Overview |

Working environment

  • South Africa is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as to the 1969 OAU Convention. The country has a liberal asylum legislation that incorporates all basic principles of refugee protection including freedom of movement, the right to work and access to basic social services. However, refugees are not always able to fully enjoy these rights because some public institutions do not recognize their permits.

  • Refugees reside mainly in urban areas, spread across the country, making it challenging to reach those most in need.

  • Despite being a middle-income country, South Africa faces challenges with unemployment, service delivery, poverty and economic inequality, which puts refugees and asylum-seekers in competition with host populations.

  • South Africa is a major destination country for asylum-seekers as well as migrants and others looking for better economic and social opportunities. There are confirmed reports of human smuggling and trafficking, as well as instances of South Africa being used as a gateway to Europe, America and other countries.

  • The high numbers of applications lead to backlogs and have an impact on the quality and efficiency of the refugee status determination (RSD) process. Social service programmes also face challenges in supporting asylum-seekers who are granted access to services in South Africa while awaiting a decision on their status.

  • The Government of South Africa supports international efforts to protect and assist refugees and asylum-seekers, in particular by providing them with access to health facilities, schools and social services.

People of concern

The main groups of people of concern planned for under the South Africa operation in 2014 are: refugees and asylum-seekers escaping conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); Zimbabweans, Burundians, Rwandans and Ethiopians who may have faced persecution in their home countries; as well as Somali refugees who have fled the security situation in Somalia.

According to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), at the end of 2012, approximately 230,000 asylum-seekers were awaiting an RSD decision at both first instance and appeal stages. The total number of recognized refugees currently stands at some 65,000.

Planning figures

UNHCR 2014 planning figures for South Africa
TYPE OF POPULATION ORIGIN Dec 2013 Dec 2014 Dec 2015
Total in country of whom assisted
Total in country of whom assisted
Total in country of whom assisted
Total 300,600 60,120 350,000 70,000 367,300 73,460
Refugees Various 67,500 13,500 75,600 15,120 83,600 16,720
Asylum-seekers Various 233,100 46,620 274,400 54,880 283,700 56,740

| Response |

Needs and strategies

In 2014, the main needs of the refugees will be: access to documentation, to a fair and functioning asylum system, and to basic social services, as provided for in national legislation and policy, as well as periodic emergency assistance for the most vulnerable, including shelter and food. The operation will also run xenophobia-prevention programmes.

Xenophobic violence continues to affect the local integration of refugees. Therefore, UNHCR will make special efforts to pursue preventive action and advocacy, including awareness campaigns and conflict resolution programmes, as well as other community interventions aimed at promoting social cohesion.

Strategic partnerships and coordination will be strengthened in the main areas of intervention. UNHCR will advocate for the preservation of established asylum space, including the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers to work, study and access health and social services in the country. Technical support and advice will be provided, as required, to the DHA, with a focus on promoting self-reliance and local integration opportunities. The Office will also continue to provide short-term material assistance to vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers who cannot access other assistance for basic needs, such as shelter and food. In the longer term, such cases should be integrated into local charitable and government social service programmes. Resettlement will remain a protection tool for individuals with critical needs.

| Implementation |


UNHCR's main partner in South Africa will continue to be the DHA, where cooperation mainly takes place with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. Moreover, the Office will continue to work closely with other relevant government authorities, UN agencies, civil society, as well as other stakeholders.

As the lead agency for the Protection Working Group, which brings together UN agencies, NGOs and government representatives, UNHCR will provide strategic leadership and direction on international protection issues. In the area of self-reliance, cooperation with development actors will assist in developing livelihood opportunities. UNHCR is involved in the elaboration and implementation of the UN Strategic Cooperation Framework (UNSCF) with other UN agencies and the Government.

2014 UNHCR partners in South Africa
Implementing partners
NGOs: Cape Town Refugee Centre, Caritas Swaziland, Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Displaced Migrants and Persons Support Programme, El Shaddai Church - Hands of Mercy, Jesuit Refugee Services, Lawyers for Human Rights, Refugee Social Services, Sonke Gender Justice Network, The Agency for Refugee Education, Skills Training & Advocacy
Others: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of Cape Town (UCT) - Refugee Rights Clinic
Operational partners
Government agencies: City Councils of Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Department of Education, Department of Health, Department of Home Affairs, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Department of Provincial and Local Government, Department of Social Development, National Disaster Management Centre, South Africa Social Security Agency, South African Local Government Association, South African Police Services
NGOs: Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, International Catholic Migration Commission Refuge Point
Others: IOM, UN Information Center, UNAIDS

| Financial information |

In 2014, the financial requirements for UNHCR's South Africa operation have been set at USD 26.4 million. This is a decrease from the 2013 budget of USD 37.6 million, and can be attributed to the operation's shift in focus towards the provision of technical support and advice as well as a broadening and strengthening of partnerships, with the aim of reducing direct assistance. In 2014, UNHCR also plans to strengthen its advocacy for the integration of refugees into existing support systems in South Africa, particularly in the areas of shelter and social grants.

Source: UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2105



Statistical Snapshot*
* As at January 2014
  1. Country or territory of asylum or residence. In the absence of Government estimates, UNHCR has estimated the refugee population in most industrialized countries based on 10 years of asylum-seekers recognition.
  2. Persons recognized as refugees under the 1951 UN Convention/1967 Protocol, the 1969 OAU Convention, in accordance with the UNHCR Statute, persons granted a complementary form of protection and those granted temporary protection. It also includes persons in a refugee-like situation whose status has not yet been verified.
  3. Persons whose application for asylum or refugee status is pending at any stage in the procedure.
  4. Refugees who have returned to their place of origin during the first six months of 2013. Source: Country of origin and asylum.
  5. Persons who are displaced within their country and to whom UNHCR extends protection and/or assistance. It also includes persons who are in an IDP-like situation.
  6. IDPs protected/assisted by UNHCR who have returned to their place of origin during the first six months of 2013.
  7. Refers to persons under UNHCR's statelessness mandate.
  8. Persons of concern to UNHCR not included in the previous columns but to whom UNHCR extends protection and/or assistance.
  9. The category of people in a refugee-like situation is descriptive in nature and includes groups of people who are outside their country of origin and who face protection risks similar to those of refugees, but for whom refugee status has, for practical or other reasons, not been ascertained.
The data are generally provided by Governments, based on their own definitions and methods of data collection.
A dash (-) indicates that the value is zero, not available or not applicable.

Source: UNHCR/Governments.
Compiled by: UNHCR, FICSS.
Residing in South Africa [1]
Refugees [2] 65,881
Asylum Seekers [3]
More info 232,211
This figure refers to an estimated 86,600 undecided cases at first instance at the end of 2013 and 145,400 undecided cases on appeal at the end of 2012.
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) [5] 0
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Stateless Persons [7] 0
Various [8] 0
Total Population of Concern 298,092
Originating from South Africa [1]
Refugees [2] 423
Asylum Seekers [3] 362
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) [5] 0
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Various [8] 0
Total Population of Concern 785
Government Contributions to UNHCR
2013 Contributions Breakdown
Total contribution in USD: 337,385 [rank: 34]
Total contribution in currency: 286,100 (CHF); 26,148 (USD)
Unrestricted contribution (USD): 311,237 [rank: 25]
Donor ranking per GDP: 50
Donor ranking per capita: 55
2013 Contributions chart
Contributions since 2000
More info 10,632
As at 2 July 2014
More info 337,385
Total contribution in USD: 337,385 [rank: 34]
Total contribution in currency: 286,100 (CHF); 26,148 (USD)
Unrestricted contribution (USD): 311,237 [rank: 25]
Donor ranking per GDP: 50
Donor ranking per capita: 55
More info 275,005
Total contribution in USD: 275,005 [rank: 38]
Total contribution in currency: 229,999 (CHF); 26,145 (USD)
Unrestricted contribution (USD): 190,186 [rank: 28]
Donor ranking per GDP: 56
Donor ranking per capita: 61
More info 610,288
Total contribution in USD: 610,288 [rank: 30]
Total contribution in currency: 562,563 CHF
Donor ranking per GDP: 35
Donor ranking per capita: 38
More info 178,909
Total contribution in USD: 178,909 (rank: 36)
Total contribution in currency: 184,449 CHF
Donor ranking per GDP: 43
Donor ranking per capita: 47
2009 0
More info 145,985
Total contribution in USD: 145,985 (rank: 37)
Total contribution in currency: 1,000,000 (ZAR)
Unrestricted contribution (USD): -
Donor ranking per GDP: 40
Donor ranking per capita: 41
More info 268,033
Total contribution in USD: 268,033 (rank: 38)
Total contribution in currency: 327,000 (CHF)
Unrestricted contribution (USD): -
Donor ranking per GDP: 41
Donor ranking per capita: 42
More info 462,506
Total contribution in USD: 462,506 (rank: 49)
Total contribution in currency: 589,360 (CHF)
Unrestricted contribution (USD): -
Donor ranking per GDP: 31
Donor ranking per capita: 34
More info 382,413
USD 382,413 of which USD 168,462 (44%) earmarked at the subregional level, USD 92,654 (24%) earmarked at the country level and USD 121,297 (32%) affectés au niveau sectoriel / thématique.
More info 260,006
USD 260,006 of which USD 146,719 (56%) was earmarked at the subregional level and USD 113,287 (44%) earmarked at the country level.
More info 157,861
USD 157,861 of which was 100% earmarked at the subregional level.
2002 63,472
More info 400,186
USD 400,186 of which 100% earmarked.
More info 502,873
USD 502,873 of which 287,356 (57%) unrestricted and 215,517 (43%) earmarked.

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South Africa: Searching for Coexistence

South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa where registered refugees and asylum-seekers can legally move about freely, access social services and compete with locals for jobs.

But while these right are enshrined in law, in practice they are sometimes ignored and refugees and asylum-seekers often find themselves turned away by employers or competing with the poorest locals for the worst jobs - especially in the last few years, as millions have fled political and economic woes in countries like Zimbabwe. The global economic downturn has not helped.

Over the last decade, when times turned tough, refugees in towns and cities sometimes became the target of the frustrations of locals. In May 2008, xenophobic violence erupted in Johannesburg and quickly spread to other parts of the country, killing more than 60 people and displacing about 100,000 others.

In Atteridgeville, on the edge of the capital city of Pretoria - and site of some of the worst violence - South African and Somali traders, assisted by UNHCR, negotiated a detailed agreement to settle the original trade dispute that led to the torching of Somali-run shops. The UN refugee agency also supports work by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to counter xenophobia.

South Africa: Searching for Coexistence

South Africa's Invisible People

In March 2011, UNHCR initiated a project with the South African non-governmental organization, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), to tackle the issue of statelessness. The specific goals of the project were to provide direct legal services to stateless people and those at risk of statelessness; to engage government on the need for legal reform to prevent and reduce statelessness; to raise awareness about stateless people and their rights; and to advocate for the ratification of the 1954 and 1961 UN conventions on statelessness.

LHR had conceived the project a year earlier after noticing that large numbers of Zimbabwean-born asylum-seekers were telling its staff that they faced problems getting jobs, studying or setting up businesses - all allowed under South African law. They told LHR that when they applied for Zimbabwean passports, necessary to access these rights, they were informed by consular officials that they were no longer recognized as Zimbabwean citizens. This effectively made them stateless.

Since the project's inception, LHR has reached more than 2,000 people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness. These people came from more than 20 different countries. It has identified numerous categories of concern in South Africa, both migrants and those born in the country.

The following photo set portrays some of the people who have been, or are being, helped by the project. The portraits were taken by photographer Daniel Boshoff. Some of the subjects asked that their names be changed.

South Africa's Invisible People

Surviving in the City: Pretoria, South AfricaPlay video

Surviving in the City: Pretoria, South Africa

Living in Pretoria as a refugee or asylum-seeker is challenging. Most either live rough on the streets or in cramped apartments in townships. There are also tensions with locals because of the perception that foreigners get a better deal than South African citizens.
Top business partners renew supportPlay video

Top business partners renew support

Executives from Manpower, Young & Rubicam, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft visit UNHCR operations in South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia.
Zimbabweans in South AfricaPlay video

Zimbabweans in South Africa

While Zimbabwe's main political rivals have agreed to hold power-sharing talks, there are continued reports of instability and violence in the country. The flow of Zimbabweans seeking asylum in neigbouring South Africa is growing, rather than ebbing. The UN refugee agency reports that there are more and more women and children joining the exodus.