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Advocacy in the Time of Xenophobia: Exploring Opportunities for Change in South African Migration Policy and Practice

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Title: Advocacy in the Time of Xenophobia: Exploring Opportunities for Change in South African Migration Policy and Practice
Author: Pugh, Sarah A.
Department: Department of Political Science
Program: Political Science
Advisor: Dauda, Carol
Abstract: In May 2008, violence against foreign nationals erupted in communities across South Africa. Dozens lost their lives, hundreds were injured, and thousands were displaced in a crisis that highlighted migration as one of the most complicated, volatile issues currently facing the young democracy. In the aftermath of the crisis, important questions have been raised regarding the complex causes of the violence and the widespread anti-foreigner attitudes that continue to find regular expression in the country. This dissertation explores the social and political space in which challenges to this status quo are being advanced. Drawing on a series of qualitative, semi-structured key informant interviews with civil society actors and policy makers, along with six months of participant observation at a migration-focused non-governmental organisation in Cape Town, this research interrogates both the opportunities and limitations for advancing a progressive vision of migration in South Africa. This is understood as a vision which promotes the upholding and expansion of rights for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, the progressive dismantling of xenophobic social attitudes, and the reconceptualisation of migration as a potential tool for development. While important advances have been made in the migration arena since 1994, migration management remains rooted in a control and security-oriented approach, and migration continues to be perceived primarily as a threat and a burden. Negative social constructions of migrants combine with widespread perceptions of a de facto hierarchy of rights that places citizens’ rights above those of foreign nationals, making it difficult for policy-makers and civil society actors to advance a progressive migration agenda. This is compounded by a rapidly shifting and contentious migration policy environment, in which the policies on paper often bear little resemblance to their implementation in practice. In this context, the efforts and interventions of civil society actors working in this arena, while important and necessary, are limited in their effectiveness. These actors also face ongoing and deep-seated internal challenges that delimit their capacity to effect change. For South Africa to begin to intentionally foster and harness migration’s developmental potentials will require strong political leadership, vision and commitment, along with a fundamental reconceptualisation of migration. Given current migration practices and discourse, such a shift seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.
Date: 2014-06
Rights: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada
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