What are you doing on world refugee day?

Posted on June 20, 2011. Filed under: Refugees, Xenophobia |

Kate Lefko-Everett

Today is World Refugee Day, and with xenophobic violence once again making recent headlines in South Africa, it is important cultivate a better understanding of the rights of refugees internationally and in this country, as well as to stand  against intolerance in our own daily lives. I thought I would share some interesting articles and links with readers, and encourage feedback and accounts of your personal experiences as well!

The UNHCR acknowledges that the international context  in which it works has changed dramatically since the refugeee agency was established 60 years ago, and tasked with the protection of about 2.1 million Europeans displaced by World War II. The Global Trends report of 2010 “shows that 43.7 million people are now displaced worldwide”, and within this number 15.4 million are refugees. (source)

South Africa is a signatory to both the 1951 Convention relating to the  State of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol (as of 1996), as well as to the 1969 OAU (now AU) Convention governing the specific aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

The South African Refugees Act of 1998 also guarantees refugees (those who have been granted asylum) full legal protection, as consistent with the provisions of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, as well as the right to seek employment and entitlement to the “same basic health services and basic primary education which the inhabitants of the Republic receive”. (Section 27)

In an interesting article that appeared in the Pretoria News and Cape Times today, Jacob van Garderen of Lawyers for Human Rights discusses the progressive, integration-oriented approach underpinning the Act, and whether or not the spirit of this important piece of legislation has been implemented in practice.

I have also received a lot of interesting information on Twitter today from PASSOP (@PASSOP) and the UNHCR (@Refugees), as well as from Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba (@mgigaba), who sent out an important message earlier today:

“Spare a thought today for the refugees, asylum-seekers and internally-displaced people all over the world. Say NO to XENOPHOBIA!”

For more insight into refugee and migration issues in South Africa, have a look at the articles below, which appeared in previous editions of the SA Reconciliation Barometer newsletter:

Citizenship, National Identity and Migration: A long walk to social cohesion Vincent Williams (2011)

South Africa: one of the worst places for refugees, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh (2009)

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UN Special Rapporteur on Migrants visits SA

Posted on January 26, 2011. Filed under: Xenophobia |

Jorge Bustamante, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, has arrived in South Africa for an official visit 23 January until 1 February, and will release a report on the conditions he finds in the country. The Department of Home Affairs has released a transcript of a media briefing by Minister Dlamini Zuma on the visit, in which she confirmed that Bustamante will visit Cape Town, Beit Bridge and the Lindela centre, and that the conditions of Zimbabwean migrants in the country had been discussed.

The Sowetan also reports today that Bustamante had a “fruitful” meeting with Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa yesterday, and will continue to meet with senior government officials from different departments. According to the report, Bustamante will not make further comments on his findings until his visit concludes next week.

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Merkel and multiculturalism

Posted on November 4, 2010. Filed under: Race Relations, Xenophobia |


A few weeks ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked international debate when, in a speech to young Christian Democrats, she pronounced on the ‘utter failure’ of multiculturalism and integration in Germany, and the difficulty of building a society in which people from different cultural backgrounds can live happily ‘side by side’. (more…)

While Merkel stressed the importance of the appearance of an accepting and tolerant Germany, particularly for international corporations working in the country, she has often called for ‘a tougher line on immigrants who don’t show a willingness to adapt to German society’, including suggesting a language requirement for entry into schools and the job market. While acknowledging the contribution of skilled foreign workers in the country, she also underscored the importance of educating unemployed Germans over ‘recruiting workers from abroad.’ (Reuters report…)

Perhaps in the interest of mitigating further international backlash, and at a time when nationalism and anti-migrant sentiment are issues of concern in Europe in particular, Merkel yesterday revised this position somewhat during a day-long ‘integration summit’, and called for more concerted work to improve social relations across cultural divisions:

“What I mean to say is that for years, for decades, the approach was that integration was not something that needed to be addressed, that people would live side-by-side and that it would sort itself out by itself,” Merkel said.

“This turned out to be false. What in fact is needed is a political effort and an effort by society as a whole to make integration happen … Diversity in society is something that has always made our country stronger.” (full story)

Following this debate, I was also really interested in the links Mail & Guardian columnist Verashni Pillay draws between Germany and ‘the South African project’. However, rather than divides related to culture or religion, she finds that the ‘yawning gap between the haves and have-nots in South Africa is causing a cultural clash of an entirely different kind’.

More specifically, Pillay writes about the divide between young middle-class South Africans – those who are ‘Trying to Make It Work’ versus a ‘new culture’ of dissatisfied young people who ‘want to be free of the heavy weight of our history and social complexities’. Have a look at Verashni’s column this week, its well worth a read!

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Nathi Mthethwa on Xenophobia

Posted on September 28, 2010. Filed under: Xenophobia |

On Sunday, Reuters reported that police minister Nathi Mthethwa has warned of harsh punishment in store for perpetrators of xenophobic violence against foreign nationals in South Africa.

According to a statement issued by the SAPS, Mthethwa was recently  “honoured by the African Diaspora Forum (ADF) as an ambassador of positive values for his ministry’s efforts in thwarting the so-called xenophobic attacks”.

Efforts to combat xenophobia in South Africa are critically important, and Mthethwa called for greater vigilance “against any evidence of xenophobia against the African immigrants.” He was also quoted as commenting, “It is fundamentally wrong and unacceptable that we should treat people who come to us as friends as though they are our enemies.

That former president Thabo Mbeki spoke the same words in 2001 is evidence of the ongoing need for greater tolerance in South Africa.

Want to read more? Have a look at the following articles published in recent editions of the SA Reconciliation Barometer newsletter:

The mysterious incompatibility of bias and brigandry Loren Landau

South Africa: one of the worst places for refugees, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh

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