Refugees say they have plenty to offer South Africa

Refugees attending a Parliamentary session on Wednesday urged the government to recognise their talents and use them to develop the country.

“South Africa is still a child—11 years old—and like a child needs help to walk. Give these people [refugees] a chance to use their skills to help build this country and teach South Africa how to walk,” said Ami Bomoka, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He is one of an estimated 28 000 refugees and asylum seekers currently calling South Africa home.

“We can help your country walk. We can do that.
We work for South Africa first now,” he said, urging the government not to see them as only a burden on the system.

Over a 100 refugees joined MPs and non-governmental organisations attending the Home Affairs Portfolio committee in the Old Assembly, during which their plight was brought under the spotlight.

South Africans have often been accused of xenophobic behaviour towards refugees and asylum seekers whom they claim “steal their wives and take their jobs”.

Referred to as makwerekwere by the local population, refugees and asylum seekers say they are targets of abuse.

“To the local people, how do you feel being called a kaffir? That is how it feels when you call us makwerekwere,” Bomoka said to a stunned, silent assembly, which then erupted into applause from his fellow refugees.

He and others like him had much to offer the country. Other refugees agreed and told their story of how they each managed to employ a number of South Africans in their own businesses despite the hardships of acquiring the correct documentation to live in the country.

“We don’t just take jobs away, many of us employ the local population in our private businesses. Is this not then the job creation for which you all strive,” they asked the assembly.

Bomoka, however, also called on his fellow refugees to integrate themselves into the community and not expect everything to be handed to them on a plate.

“South Africans fear you. We need to let them know we are not animals. We are not here to kill them. We are here to be their brothers,” he said.

In 1996 South Africa committed itself to the protection of refugees by signing and ratifying the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention as well as the 1969 Organisation of African Unity Refugee Convention.

In 2000 the South African Refugee Act was promulgated, promising to protect all those fearing persecution in their home countries. - Sapa

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