Sunday, May 11, 2008


This is a huge topic today in South Africa. Because of the many RECENT conflicts that have occurred (there have been conflicts in many places around the world) and the young nature of most African states, South Africa is home to many people who have fled their countries. We are the continental hot spot, the place to go if you can’t get to the UK or the US. And so you will find people from Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Sudan, Mozambique, Malawi, etc. I mean they are from everywhere. When you meet someone from certain countries like DRC or Burundi or Rwanda there’s a 90% (higher in my experience) chance that the person you are talking to is a refugee or someone granted asylum by South Africa.

Because of the high number of refugees, many South Africans fear the competition. This fuels xenophobia. Refugees make up a large portion of the informal sector and many people employ them over black South Africans (80% of the population) because the refugees are cheaper. This happens in construction industries as well as domestic worker industries, agriculture, and tourism. In Xhosa (one of the 9 official Black South African languages out of 11 official languages) they have a word for Black non-South African African. And this is part of the xenophobia. It’s not a positive or encouraging word, though it’s not vulgar either.

The problem is that many immigrants and/or refugees live in poor conditions and many are discriminated against. Simultaneously South Africa has tightened control on entry (emigration) and asylum (immigration issues are hot topics in so many countries including Israel, USA, UK, China, Korea, Dominican Republic, etc.).

I’m thankful that we have people (especially students) who are willing to fight for refugee rights and mutual respect and against refugee discrimination.

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