The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) has called on the government to "naturalise" the millions of illegal African immigrants at present living in the country.
In a statement yesterday the SAIRR said the government should consider granting the millions of illegal immigrants "some form of legal standing".
SAIRR spokesman Mapeete Mohale said such a move would allow immigrants to be registered and then their numbers can be monitored.
It would also allow them easier access to the police and justice system when their rights were infringed on either by the police or the public, Mohale said.
She said in turn the police would then have a better chance of tracking down immigrants allegedly involved in crimes.
"Access to banking and other services will also cut the risks of their being targeted as robbery victims," Mohale said.
SAIRR deputy chief executive Frans Cronje said the estimated number of African immigrants in the country was between three and five million, "which makes them equal to South Africa's entire white population".
Cronje said it was not in South Africa's interest to have an illegal population the size of the African immigrant population.
The SAIRR call comes amid recent attacks on foreigners by residents in Alexandra.
The attackers accuse foreigners of stealing their jobs and of being involved in criminal activities.
Mohale ascribed the attacks to the government's reluctance to accept the fact that African immigrants were now a permanent feature of the South African population.
Currently the government classifies foreigners who flock into South Africa from other African countries either as refugees, who are then registered as asylum seekers; and illegal immigrants who sneak into the country through its porous borders. If arrested these are repatriated to their countries.
Parliament announced yesterday that it would debate the Refugees Amendment Bill.
The bill grants authority to the director-general of Home Affairs to establish a Refugees Appeals Authority (RAA) that would be responsible for the procedures relating to refugee status determination, obligations and rights of asylum seekers.
Several organisations have condemned the attacks in Alexandra.
Home Affairs communications director Siobhan McCarthy said while the attacks were symptoms of a situation where South Africans face the challenges of rampant poverty and unemployment, "venting their frustration on innocent foreigners was unacceptable".
Denis Mpangane of the International Community Unifyers, said "communities that perpetrate xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals are rolling back several years of hard work towards educating South Africans on the importance of respecting human rights".
Cosatu said there can be no excuse for placing the blame for problems of poverty and unemployment on immigrants "who have been forced to flee from even worse conditions in other parts of Africa, especially Zimbabwe".
The Young Communist League said the xenophobic attacks were "undermining international struggles and solidarity, which are a cornerstone of our hard won freedom and democracy".