GOVERNMENTS URGED TO UPROOT THE CAUSES OF REFUGEES
Written by: Nqobile Msomi
June 20th is marked as World Refugee Day. This is to commemorate the obstacles refugees face each year such as being discriminated against, being forced to leave their countries and leaving their families and friends behind, while also celebrating their courage and strength.
According to the United Nations Human Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) website, there are 59.5 million forcibly displaced people around the world. Nearly 20 million of these people are refugees and 10 million are stateless. In the last year alone, there were 13.9 million people newly displaced.
Minister of Human Affairs Malusi Gigaba delivered a speech at the World Refugee Day event held at the Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg saying that people should not blanket every refugee as an asylum seeker.
“When dealing with this problem we must not blanket everybody as an asylum seeker because the genuine asylum seekers, will lose the protection that they need .When we deal with large inflated numbers of people who have come in claimed asylum it delays making decisions on the genuine asylum seekers,” explained Gigaba.
Gigaba continued on the matter of asylum seekers, differentiating between asylum seekers and economic migrants.
“This is what we are trying to deal with so that we can speedily determine the status of genuine asylum seekers and provide avenues for economic migrants to regularise their stay in South Africa and there has been a number of those.”
He shed light on the history of South Africa and asylum seekers, saying that they share a history with many refugees.
“Since 1998, South Africa has had one of the most liberal asylum seeker management regimes in Africa, and indeed the world. Our commitment to helping refugees is driven by our historic experiences as victims of oppression and state violence, our constitutional values, and our international commitments,” said Gigaba.
Actress and human rights activist Angelina Jolie backed World Refugee Day at a BBC broadcast, speaking on the root causes of the crisis.
“Unless we address the root causes of the crisis, we will not see a slowing of the number of refugees crossing borders and in fact, quite the opposite. Countries around the world will be asked to do more and more,” she argued.
Jolie encouraged people to take control of the issue and stand up to governments.
“What we must do first and foremost as citizens is to demand that our governments show the leadership necessary to address the fundamental causes of the refugee crisis at a global level. This is the wider picture that I would like to address,” stated Jolie.
In her thought-provoking speech, she encouraged people not to close themselves off from the situation because even if it does not affect them directly, it will affect them indirectly.
“Since no country can seal itself off from the impact of the refugee crisis, such a free for all would lead to a greater set of problems. It would amount to the worst of both worlds, failing to tackle the issue and undermining international law and our values in the process,” she concluded
The UNHCR emphasised Jolie’s words with a statistic that an average of 42,500 people per day flee their homes to seek protection within the borders of their own country or other countries.
Middle East Commentator and immigrant Baria Alamuddin, said in a speech whilst recently in South Africa, that she was an internationalist and didn’t believe in isolation and wars.
“I believe in open borders, living and working together, trading together and getting education together, all whilst exchanging cultures together. We need more to understand each other than bringing wars,” she stated.
“I am an immigrant in England, I came in 1982 when Israel invaded my country .We were bombarded in my city Beruit and luckily my husband was a business man. We had a house in England.”
Alamuddin continued to speak of how they moved to their new home England.
“We were the lucky ones to get out. There were many people who weren’t able to get out, who lost loved ones and properties and livelihoods. I celebrate diversity and I think it is the only way forward, when it comes to the refugees, I don’t call them immigrants but when you talk about refugees from Syria it’s a completely different ball game who run away from bombing and war, you cannot blame them, from not wanting to die,” she clarified.
The UNHCR website along with Alamuddin gave some insight on the crisis in Syria with civil war in the country having led to one of the worst humanitarian crises of this lifetime. More than 10 million Syrians are currently displaced. This amounts to 45% of the Syrian population.
Alamaddin spoke about how all citizens have a duty to refugees, regardless of where they are from.
“We all have a duty to all refugees. I learned in my life that you can rebuild a house and your life but you can never rebuild loved ones, when they are gone they are gone. So I think we should all stop and think what we can do for the refugees,” Alamuddin concluded.
*Caption: Home Affairs for refugees on Moore Road, Durban.