Immigrants and xenophobia : perception of judicial system personnel and experiences of Ethiopian immigrants in accessing the justice system in Newcastle, South Africa.
The overwhelming number of people residing outside country of origin has created anxiety and fear in the immigrant receiving countries over the potentially destabilising effect on the country’s resources. This may provoke controversy because of the fears that they may be competing unfairly with hosts for jobs, housing and other welfare services. Hence, migrants are increasingly becoming vulnerable to racism, xenophobia and discrimination. The justice system protects the rights of migrants. Equal access to justice entails the right of migrants to initiate and proceed with legal matters through the justice system without hindrances. On the side of the state, access to justice also includes the obligation of the state to investigate violations and persecute the perpetrators according to the law. Hence, with this context in mind, this study explored the perception of justice system personnel on the services they provide to non-South African citizens, specifically to Ethiopian Immigrants in the Newcastle area. It also explored the experience of Ethiopian asylum seekers and refugees in interacting with the locals and in accessing justice system within the greater Newcastle area in the KwaZulu Natal Province. In total, 20 interviews were conducted, of which 8 are justice system personnel and 12 Ethiopian asylum seekers and refugees. The findings suggest that the majority of justice system personnel perceive that foreigners are equal in the eyes of the law and get equal treatment as that of South Africans. It was found that the majority of justice system personnel lack knowledge of refugee law and this has been an obstacle in day to day running of courts. The findings also show that language services and Legal Aid are available to locals and as well as foreigners. It was also found that case dockets get lost due to corruption and negligence, and this resulted in impunity for some of the perpetrators of xenophobic violence. The findings also suggested that asylum seekers and refugees agreed that the justice system is fair and that there are good provisions that accommodate everyone. Some, however, expressed discontent and claimed that they faced discrimination. They portray the police as unfriendly and indicated that they have experienced abuse and discrimination. The findings also suggest that police harass and abuse refugees by invading their premises without a search warrant.