The implementation of the refugee act 130 of 1998 in South Africa and the question of the social exclusion of forced migrants : a case study of DRC forced migrants in Pietermaritzburg.
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The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees refers to the concept ‘forced migrants’ as victims of coerced movement. In South Africa, the Refugee Act 130 of 1998 entitles all forced migrants the right to access education, employment and other social and economic services. However, forced migrants in the country remain socially excluded and continuously fall outside networks of controlled association. This study examines the underlying barriers in the enactment of the Refugee Act 130 of 1998. The central focus is the interplay between social exclusion and forced migrants failure to access their legal rights. The study offers an exploratory examination of social exclusion (a predominantly Eurocentric concept), within the context of the developing world while paying particular attention to the effects of social exclusion against forced migrants. A case study approach was adopted in the research along with an interpretive research paradigm. A non-probability sampling technique (expert sampling and homogeneous sampling) was then used to select the study participants; Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) forced migrants and civil society members. Participants were grouped to participate in the focus-group discussion (One FGD – eight participants), two participated in the life history and three in the in-depth interviews. The data was then analysed using thematic content analysis. Murphy’s theory of Social Closure (monopolization and exclusion) underpinned the analysis of the study. The multidimensionality of social exclusion, namely; the primary cultural as well as structural agentive processes of exclusion were examined in the study. The findings from the study show that a range of multidimensional factors influence the degree of social closure, prejudice, opportunity hoarding and institutional biases confronting forced migrants. As a result, Congolese forced migrants have been inhibited from accessing a host of legal entitlements in the country. Poor collaboration between the state and civil society, inadequate refugee rights education initiatives as well as bureaucratic challenges within the South African refugee appeal system were identified in the study as contributing to these challenges. The findings suggested how a capability based approach may facilitate forced migrants social inclusion, cohesion and their access to a spectrum of commodity bundles, civil rights and other necessaries enshrined by law. This study therefore makes a significant contribution to the body of knowledge by establishing the link between social exclusion and the deprivations confronting forced migrant populations.