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Southern Africa: Refugee Numbers Fall as Prospects Local Integration Improve

Contact: Andrew Galea Debono, Jesuit Refugee Service International Advocacy Coordinator, 39-06 68977390, 39 329 564 2824, international.advocacy@mail06.jrs.net  


MEDIA ADVISORY, Feb. 2 /Catholic Newswire/ -- In an annual meeting held between JRS country directors and Regional Director, Sr Joanne Whitaker RSM, it was acknowledged that all countries in the region are experiencing a decline in the number of refugees and asylum seekers, with an exception of South Africa.


The meeting, held just outside the South African city of Pretoria between 16 and 18 January, offered the country directors and Sr Whitaker the opportunity to identify common regional trends, review annual activities and present their plans for the future.


Falling numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in the region were largely attributed to the lasting peace in Angola, as well as positive developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Consequently, JRS directors discussed their plans for phasing down projects in Angola and Zambia.


One of the positive side effects of falling numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in southern African countries has been a greater willingness on the part of these states to consider offering refugees, unable or unwilling to return home, long-term immigration status to facilitate their integration into local communities. These refugees would in turn be afforded rights comparable to citizens of these countries. This new position is in stark contrast to the view taken by states that were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of refugees living within their borders in years past.


"Local people expressed concerns about security which made talk about local integration difficult for local leaders. Now that the numbers of refugees are declining at a significant rate, discussions about the fate of the residual caseload become easier for the politicians", JRS Southern Africa Regional Advocacy Officer, Michael Gallagher SJ, told Dispatches on 26 January.


"It is much easier for a country, say Zambia, to think about absorbing 20,000 people who have been there most of their lives than it was to think about absorbing 200,000 Angolans", Fr Gallagher pointed out.


The southern region has made local integration one of its advocacy goals for 2006-2007, added Fr Gallagher.