World Refugee Day: South Africans skeptical about foreigners' motives, study finds

2019-06-20 17:30
The Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (Tariro Washinyira, GroundUp)

The Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (Tariro Washinyira, GroundUp)

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A recent Ipsos global study, coinciding with World Refugee Day, shows that 71% of South Africans tend to be more supportive of refugees seeking sanctuary, even though 66% of those polled doubt their motivation.

According to the study, seven in 10 South Africans agree that people should have the right to seek refuge, more so than many European countries, where an influx of refugees escaping war, persecution and hardship are faced with growing pessimism.

Globally, six in 10 (61%) respondents believe in the fundamental right of refugees to seek refuge, putting South Africans ahead of the curve.

However, when it comes to the question of whether refugees are "genuine", 66% of South Africans are doubtful of their motives, believing that refugees hope to enter the country for economic reasons or to take advantage of welfare services.

This represents growth of two percentage points since 2017, when 64% of South Africans were skeptical of refugees' intentions.

Canada, Spain and Brazil are among the top three nations whose citizens have indicated they are willing to believe refugees' reasons for seeking safety in their respective countries.

The survey, conducted online in 26 countries, polled more than 18 000 people between the ages 16 and 74, including the US, where President Donald Trump is constantly dividing opinion with his overwhelmingly anti-immigration rhetoric.

More positivity over open borders

According to Ipsos, South Africa is among several countries where respondents to this specific study are referred to as "upper deck consumer citizens", who are not nationally representative of their country.

South Africans who participated in the study are, however, more positive about taking in refugees, and 52% agree that the country's borders should remain open, compared to 39% who believe that borders should be closed off.

Speaking on behalf of a coalition of opposition parties last year, Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota cautioned against allowing foreign nationals into the country, News24 previously reported.

"Government, at national [level], is allowing people to flood South Africa. Most people occupying the buildings are people coming from outside the country," Lekota said at the time, referencing a move to clean up old, disused buildings in Johannesburg's inner city, spearheaded by the DA-led coalition government in the City of Johannesburg.

"It can't be that any country that is concerned about its own citizens can leave its citizens out there and open the best positions and fill them up with people who come from other countries, making it difficult for people coming out of Soweto and places like that to be immediately nearer work and get jobs and live in better conditions," Lekota told journalists, after prefacing his comments with "we are not xenophobic".

"We will look after refugees, but they must be located where they don't make it impossible for South Africans to run businesses," Lekota said, before asking: "Why should our people pay tax and have regulations that don't apply to foreigners?"

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba is also known for expressing negative sentiments towards foreign nationals, but the DA has denied that the party perpetuates xenophobia, News24 previously reported.

South Africans participating in the study have, however, become marginally more positive (49%) about the ability of refugees to integrate into their new society, compared to 2017's 47%. Globally, only two in five people (38%) agree that refugees will integrate successfully.

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Read more on:    ipsos  |  immigrants  |  refugees  |  xenophobia
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