NGO: Integrate immigrant communities

2013-06-05 14:44
(Picture: Sapa)

(Picture: Sapa)

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Pretoria - Government should take measures to assimilate foreigners into the diversified South African community, an asylum-seeker rights group said on Wednesday.

Foreigners in South Africa lived on a knife’s edge, International West Africa Asylum Seekers Foundation managing director Victoria Philips-Olaboye said.

"You need to see the multitude of people which gathers at Marabastad [home affairs offices]. They come from all over to get asylum papers in Pretoria and it is not easy.

"Some have to sleep on the ground through the night. We have a lot of rape victims there and the people are being robbed. Some of the people are pregnant, some have small children."

She said the influx of immigrants to South Africa, particularly from West Africa, was influenced by political upheavals, economic hardship, and family disputes.

"The belief is that South Africa is better than any country in West Africa so they think they can make it here. Some have sex-related issues, they are not accepted because they are gay."

She said her organisation wanted to engage South African authorities to help provide housing for asylum seekers.

"We have not seen much from the government. We would like to see more being done regarding the welfare of asylum seekers," said Philips-Olaboye.

"Around 90% of asylum seekers are not working. They tell us that even though they are qualified, South Africans are preferred for job opportunities."

Xenophobia and crime

According to Philips-Olaboye, the organisation had more than 700 members who were constantly exposed to xenophobia, discrimination, and crime.

Providing jobs for immigrants would also discourage them from venturing into crime, she said.

Nigerian immigrant Omokhagbor Michael said he arrived in South Africa two months ago in the hope of finding better economic opportunities in the entertainment sector.

He said his stay so far had been horrific.

"Most of the language used in addressing us [foreigners] is vulgar; we just have to bear it. Being Africans, I think we should be treated politely," he said.

"We had a number of challenges, including riots and [a] political crisis [in Nigeria]. In these days you find yourself in a situation where you have to go and seek shelter. In running for your life, you find yourself anywhere."

Tension

Michael’s renewable asylum-seeker permit had since expired and he said he had not been able to renew it.

"The South African government has been wonderful to us. Somebody who gives you a house definitely wants you to be there. We face the problem of individuals who want to satisfy their pride.

"I have been trying to renew my asylum-seeker permit for two weeks. I was initially given one month to stay. One becomes scared and you keep turning left and right," he said.

On Monday, the Somali government called on South Africa to protect Somali nationals living in the country after a spate of attacks on foreigners.

Residents in a township near Johannesburg rioted against the Somali community last week.

Tensions also flared in Port Elizabeth and other parts of the country.

Scores of people were arrested following the attacks, which were reminiscent of the wave of xenophobic violence that left at least 60 foreigners dead in 2008.

Read more on:    refugees  |  xenophobia

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