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Could you be a refugee?

29 January 2013, 07:18

I've noticed here on News24 that many South Africans who can't afford to emigrate, yet are fearful about their future in the country seem to believe that they can't be refugees.

I used to believe the same thing, until I took a closer look.

The thing is, refugee status isn't something that a government, or even the UN bestows on a particular group of people. There's no blanket refugee status group - although in some cases, it's assumed that a particular group will become refugees.

Instead, the UN and most first world countries who are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention will accept asylum claims from anyone who can prove that they have a well founded fear of persecution in their home country.

In other words, if you can prove that you have a well founded fear of being persecuted in your home country based on race, religion, gender or other factors, you could potentially become a refugee.

Several hundred South Africans are already living as refugees around the world. Most are white South Africans who fear persecution based on race, but lesbians, for example, who fear 'corrective rape' would also be prime candidates to become refugees.

There are legal technicalities - such as the safe first country issue (if you fly out of SA, you have to claim asylum in the first safe country you reach - you can't get on a connecting flight) and others.

However, be assured that under the 1951 Refugee Convention, many South Africans can and do qualify to become asylum seekers.

So if you are feeling trapped, perhaps it's a good idea to do a little research? There's no good reason to stay anywhere if you feel your life is endangered.

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