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Migrants call for SA permits review

 

Bereng Mpaki

A CALL has been made for the government to engage its South African counterpart to restart and review applications for the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP).

The Migrant Workers Association Lesotho (MWAL) says the M970 application fee had been prohibitive and the registration centres should be decentralised to reduce the transport costs incurred by applicants.

The four-year LSP was introduced in 2015 to enable Basotho to work, study or do business in that country lawfully.

The initial application process for the four-year permits began in March 2016 and was due to end in June 2016. There have been three extensions since then, culminating in the final extension to 31 March 2017.

MWAL Executive Director Lerato Nkhetse told the Sunday Express that they were lobbying the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane-led government to engage Lesotho’s neighbour to review the LSP for the sake of migrant workers.

MWAL represents farm workers, miners and ex-miners, domestic workers, construction and factory workers among other migrant workers.

“We urge the new coalition government to renegotiate with South Africa on the LSP contract in order to ensure that Basotho who were unable to apply for it during the allocated period are able to do so,” he said.

The M970 application fee, Mr Nkhetse said, was too steep for most migrant workers.

“Many migrant workers had to incur huge travelling costs to the registration centres from their places of work using their meagre incomes.

“Added to that, the application process should be decentralised to reduce the travelling costs for applicants. At the moment, the online application process is not very useful to migrant workers such as farm workers, domestic workers and even street vendors. They ended up incurring more costs to get third party assistance.”

He also urged the government to partner with civil society organisations in raising public awareness about the LSP, adding that the special permits should be extended beyond 2019.

“There is really no need to attach a time frame to the permit if you want it to be effective.”

Mr Nkhetse also called for a similar system of documenting migrant workers in Lesotho to reduce incidents of human trafficking and potential acts of terrorism.

According to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Lesotho is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, and for men subjected to forced labour.

“Basotho women and girls seeking work in domestic service voluntarily migrate to South Africa, where some are detained in prison-like conditions or exploited in sex trafficking.

“Some Basotho men who migrate voluntarily, although illegally and often without identity documents, to South Africa for work in agriculture and mining become victims of forced labour; many work for weeks or months before their employers turn them over to South African authorities for deportation on immigration violations to avoid paying them.

“Basotho are also coerced into committing crimes in South Africa, including theft, drug dealing, and smuggling under threat of violence or through forced drug use. Foreign nationals, including Chinese, subject their compatriots to sex trafficking in Lesotho.”

Said Mr Nkhetse: “We have to know who the migrant workers in Lesotho are and what their business is here. It will help to address some of the social challenges we face as a result of immigrants.”

He also called on the government to come up with specific projects aimed at tackling communicable diseases that can be transmitted by migrant workers such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Lesotho is ranked first and second in the world respectively in terms of the prevalence of the diseases.

“If this issue is not given the attention it deserves, we are going to end up with a nation of sickly people who are unproductive because of constant absenteeism from work,” Mr Nkhetse added.

 

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