Annual Forum Papers

Refugees and forced migrants in South Africa's urban areas: definitions, rights, levels of wellbeing and policy

  • Year: 2008
  • Organisation: University of Johannesburg
  • Author(s): Talita Dalton-Greyling
  • Countries and Regions: South Africa

The world's interest in forced displacement, including refugees and forced migrants has increased considerably during the last decades as the number of people displaced became a global concern. At the end of 2005, the global figure of "persons of concern" to the United Nations Higher Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) stood at 21 million. By the close of 2006 the number increased to 32.9 million or almost one in every one hundred and fourteen people in the world.

Migrants and refugees from across the African continent move to South Africa and mostly settle in urban areas. The figure of refugees in South Africa increased notably over the years from 6 619 in 1997 to almost 30 000 in 2006 and estimates of the amount of forced migrants in the country vary from two to eight million. The large discrepancies in the estimates of forced migrants reflect the difficulty quantifying the often clandestine population movement. South Africa is not familiar with the hosting of refugees and migrants and therefore these groups experience great hardships

It is against this background that the importance of establishing the wellbeing of refugees and migrants need to be considered and included in policy decisions. Studies have been undertaken to establish the reasons for migration and to emphasize the risk of impoverishment of displacees, but research on the measure of poverty or well-being in these communities is scarce.

In this paper the concepts related to forced displacement will be defined. The rights and the protection of refugees and forced migrants on international and regional level and in South Africa will be investigated. In addition the wellbeing of refugees and migrants in urban areas in South Africa will be measured by making use of the Atkinson's method.

Data collected by the Forced Migration Research Group on urban refugees and forced migrants in Johannesburg will be analysed and income, expenditure and remittances will be used in the approach. Considering the outcomes of the analyses suggestions will be made to improve policy measures.