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Of Myths And Migration: Illegal Immigration Into South Africa

alt Hussein Solomon
Published by: Unisa Press, Pretoria, 2003
ISBN: 10: 1868882063 13: 978-1868882069

Reviewed by: Senzo Ngubane
In Conflict Trends Issue 2 of 2003

One of the challenges facing most developing states is that of huge population movements within and between states. Such population movements are a result of a number of factors which, for a very long time have been summarised into two famous concepts, the ‘push’ and the ‘pull’ factors. The movement of people within and between states has been one of the key manifestations of a variety of hardships and challenges that are faced by individuals and states in Africa alike. The fact that, among other things, specific countries and region on the continent of Africa have experienced one conflict after another has contributed to instability within the continent. Such instability is reflected by the huge numbers of people moving across borders into other countries as a way of seeking sanctuary, peace and an attempt to re-build their lives. Such movement of people across borders has also been a cause of serious security challenges for both the countries from which these people originate as well as those in which they seek sanctuary.

This book is about population movements in a specific context and situation. The context of these movements, and the focus of the book, is Southern Africa; it looks at the different dynamics within the sub-region that have propelled people to leave their countries of origin. The situation is how one country that has been at the receiving end of these movements has attempted to rise to the challenge and construct an appropriate response to this phenomenon. The book does this by specifically attempting to evaluate how South Africa has responded to the issue of illegal immigrants (as a form of population movement) into the country. In attempting to fathom this challenge, the book sets the scene for trying to understand this issue by first looking at existing international regimes that govern the area of population movements. For instance, it looks at the definitions of what is a ‘refugee’ as opposed to andasylum seeker’. At the same time, the book also attempts to situate an understanding of migration within a turbulent Southern African region.

At another level, the author evaluates a number of theories that have been used to understand the phenomenon of population movements. For instance, the author discusses and critically evaluates the traditional theories of migration and their relevance to present-day challenges and the Southern African context. This is done to create insight into how migration has been understood hitherto by the various scholarly disciplines, and how such an understanding may have to change in order to suit the context within which the author wants to confront this subject. The key interests and indeed the focus of the book are to try and link the concept of migration with that of security. That is, is there a link, at least in Southern Africa, between security and migration? And if there is, to what extent has the whole region, and specifically, South Africa, become insecure as a result of migration and in this case, illegal migration? The central thesis of the book is that, to understand the phenomenon of migration in Southern Africa, our own understanding of security has to change. Instead of focusing on state security and a limited definition of sovereignty, there is a need to move towards an inclusive definition which embraces human security and broader understanding of sovereignty.

The subject of illegal immigrants into South Africa is not left at a theoretical level which only generates an understanding of the problem and what it means for the future of scholars interested in the subject. Rather, the book does this and more. It also delves into how the problem has been understood within the South African state apparatus and how the relevant government ministries have tried to deal with the challenge. Having done that, the book goes on to look at the various strategic responses that have been implemented by the South African government in order to deal with this challenge. After such a thorough evaluation of this response, the author then focuses on the various policy options that could be considered, by Southern African states in general and the South African government in particular, in order to deal with the challenge.

The above point reveals one of the most crucial aspects of the book, that is, its attempt to construct out of theory policy-relevant research. The various issues challenges poised by illegal migration discussed throughout the book are neatly summarised at the end, when the book considers the options that are available to policy makers in dealing with the challenge of illegal migration.

However, one part that seemed out of place within the broader subject being covered is the section that focuses on ‘Reconstructing Sovereignty in an Era of Human Security’. Other than that, the book is an excellent resource for a variety of people concerned with the subject of migration and security. It could be of use to students of international relations who are interested in the study of security; it could equally be of relevance to policy makers who seek to derive more policy options for an appropriate response to the issues of migration, and specifically illegal migration.

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