Shutting borders to refugees won’t help: Zuma

Concerned about the situation regarding Syrian refugees, South Africa has called on the international community to reflect on the root causes and find lasting solutions to the problem.

“The human tragedy requires us to find lasting solutions – which is to stop the war in Syria,” said President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday, when he gave an update on South Africa’s foreign policy.

The President addressed issues of foreign policy with a number of foreign ambassadors and high commissioners resident in South Africa.

He said it took the painful image of a 4-year-old Syrian boy, drowned and washed up ashore, to shake the world into action.

According to the United Nations, more than 300,000 people have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea so far this year; 2,600 did not survive the dangerous crossing.

“Attempts to shut the borders by some European countries will not assist the situation. To achieve lasting peace in Syria, the international community must reject all calls for regime change in that country.”

President Zuma added that the international community must not support external military interference or any action in Syria that is not in line with the Charter of the United Nations.

Support for non-state actors and terrorist organisations that seek to effect a regime change in Syria is also “unacceptable”.

President Zuma called on South Africa’s European Union partners, as well as Syria’s regional neighbours, to assist the Syrian refugees, in full accordance and compliance with all human rights and humanitarian laws.

“We pledge our support to the EU as it grappled with this challenging situation,” he said, adding that the issue puts pressure on the UN Security Council to find solutions as it moves towards the 70th anniversary next week.

In January and April this year, South Africa was forced to confront its own difficulties of migration when foreign and African nationals were attacked.

The President said government has been working hard with SADC sister countries to find solutions to the international challenge, especially the problem of illegal migration.

South Africa experiences a mixed migration flow comprising people who are genuine asylum seekers and those who flee to the country in search of economic relief.

“In some instances, the borderline does not effectively act as a barrier to these communities, particularly those that conduct normal day-to-day activities such as schooling, trade and medical care as they will keep coming each day,” said President Zuma.

This situation, according to President Zuma, demands innovative solutions. “We are partnering with SADC neighbours to ensure proactive facilitation of designated community crossing points.  We will launch such an innovative project soon in Tshidilamolomo, a village situated on the border between South Africa and Botswana.”

Meanwhile, President Zuma said a lot still needs to be done to promote peace and stability in the Middle East.

South Africa’s interest in the Middle East is based on two views – namely the economic development of South Africa and the promotion of peace and security in that region.

President Jacob Zuma said South Africa remains committed to the role it is playing in efforts to resolve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

South Africa’s Special Envoys, former Minister Zola Skweyiya and former Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad, were deployed to monitor the Israel-Palestine conflict and have just concluded their rounds of consultations.

The purpose of their visits was not to monitor the Israeli–Palestinian conflict but to convey Pretoria’s message that the parties need to return to the negotiating table.

The ultimate goal, President Zuma said, was the resumption of genuine negotiations on the permanent resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the establishment of a viable Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, existing side by side in peace with Israel within internationally recognised borders, based on those existing on 4 June 1967 prior to the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

“In order to make progress there is a need to conclude stumbling blocks,” he said, adding that a solidary front was needed in this regard.

The stumbling blocks include the need by all Palestinian parties and groupings to form a cohesive collective solidarity front for negotiations as well as lifting of the “unacceptable blockade” of Gaza by Israel in order to stop its inaccessibility with respect to humanitarian aid and the general dire humanitarian situation that this causes.

Also the stopping of the Israeli settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem, as well as an urgent solution to the right of return of Palestinian refugees was needed.

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Shutting borders to refugees won’t help: Zuma