Refugees and Immigrants in South Africa
Nwaki Quege, former manger of the Bonne Esperance refugee center for women and children came to talk to our class about the struggles that face refugee women in South Africa. The Bonne Esperance refugee center helps to address the challenges facing refugee, women and children, mainly helping them integrate into South African society and culture. The center works to help these women harness their individual skills in hope that they can one day live sustainable and independent lives. Many of these women seeking asylum have been involved in very violent domestic relationships. The Bonne Esperance Center, as well as other similar organizations, act as a safe haven where women can stay to help break the cycle of violence and slowly gain self confidence. Nwaki plays a key role in helping these women who have no sense of being. She feels that if they can learn to create income for themselves they can integrate themselves into society. This type of reintegration is the main goal of Nwaki and the Bonne Esperance refugee center.
Nwaki was accompanied by a young refugee women, I believe her name was Yvette, and her story was definitely a prime example of the hardships that face many of these women. She was a pregnant women living in a country at war, and with no money she moved to Johannesburg and then Cape Town to try and be with her husband. Her husband treated her like an animal and there was nothing she could do about it. She had no money, nowhere to go, and could not speak a lick of English. Her husband ended up leaving her all alone with two children and she had no idea what to do, she didn’t even have any money to return back to her country. Nwaki helped this young woman, and encouraged her to go to school to learn English. I’m not sure what this woman is doing now but it seems that her English is getting much better, and she is slowly healing through truth and reconciliation, by sharing her story with groups like us.
After reading “Chasing the Rainbow”, more specifically the section on South Africa’s foreign policy it is clear that South Africa’s government is committed to the country’s refugee problems. This is also eminent through South Africa’s open door policy towards immigrants and refugees. Despite this, I cannot say that the people of South Africa agree with these open attitudes and instead most citizens experience a strong feeling of negativity towards these refugees and immigrants. This is known as Xenophobia, and this phenomenon has become a huge problem not only in South Africa but across the entire African continent. Most citizens believe that refugees and immigrants are stealing their jobs and contributing to the country’s high unemployment. Throughout my travels I noticed a lot of the people working at the markets were not of South African decent and many of them were from Zimbabwe or other surrounding countries. Nwaki told us about a section 25 permit that is given to Zimbabweans that allows them to live as they please in South Africa. The government believes that South Africa and Zimbabwe are one nation and should be treated that way. Zimbabwe is in a state of economic and political conflict right now and South Africa is a place for these people to escape the crisis of their country. Although, from a past newspaper article I read while I was in South Africa it seems that these laws for immigrants and refugees are beginning to change, and the process is becoming much stricter for those seeking asylum in South Africa.
After reading about South Africans new policies towards immigrants it got me thinking about the immigration issues we are currently facing in the United States and how these two countries seem to be heading in opposite directions. While South Africa a country known in the past for its openness towards immigrants and refugees is now exploring ways to limit the number of immigrants they allow into the country and put penalties on those in the country illegally, the United States under the Obama administration is laying out a path for the legalization of immigrants in this country, something very new for our country. This could ultimately open up our doors to immigrants who go to college here who have the specialties that we need in this country as well as to laborers who have been working illegally in this country for years. The United States is a country of diversity that has been built on the diversity of immigrants from countries around the world.
Refugees and immigrants come to South Africa in search of a better life and I think it is important that the country continues to realize this. Citizens of the country must hear stories such as that of Yvette to realize the importance of refugees and how moving to another country can make such a big change in someone’s life. Refugees are often escaping terrible circumstances from the lives they are escaping and their goal is to make a better life for themselves as well as for the country they are coming to and not create hardship for the citizens of their new country. The goal is to find a way to figure out how that can be done so that issues such as xenophobia are not increased making the lives of refugees as well as South African citizens in constant conflict and turmoil. Refugees and immigrants need to be seen as bringing positive economic growth and culture to the country not loss and despair.