South Africa

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Home Away From Home is not prepared to put repatriation efforts at risk

Home Away From Home is not prepared to put repatriation efforts at risk
Xi Jinping, China's president, prepares to give a speech during an inauguration ceremony in Macau, China, on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019.(Photo: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

This is a response to an article about South Africans stranded in China by coronavirus travel restrictions – and ‘forgotten’ by the South African government – who resorted to lodging complaints with the SA Human Rights Commission to try to find a way home.

I was shocked when I read the article around Josh Doman, South Africans stuck in China ask Human Rights to help them get home.  I was further dismayed at how my involvement was portrayed. This had come a day after a dossier had been delivered to three key ministers detailing my correspondence with people wanting to come home from China. 

It also quoted me out of context around utterances I have made around the relationship between China and South Africa. 

My initial thought was, shame this is a mother in distress, and she is doing what any mother would be doing to get her child back. I could never hold anything against her. I then thought back to others whom we have brought back from China, and the pleasant experiences we have encountered in finding and returning people to their families. In fact, around the same time that this mother had her son detained, another mother had approached us because her son was missing. 

He had been held in detention and through the efforts of DIRCO and our communications, we were able to ensure a swift and smooth result. All this time I have asked people to understand that China and South Africa are in a diplomatic relationship. It is up to individuals to make up their own minds as to how good the relationship is by looking at the facts. 

Some people may say that what the SA minister says is fact, and that is their belief. It is not my job to tell you that. It is my job to educate you on what is acceptable in South Africa is not necessarily acceptable in China. This is the same for any other country. The platform that I created, Home Away From Home, concerns itself with bringing stranded South Africans home from all countries in the world. It relies on the help of people to coordinate this. 

In some countries, to coordinate this could put you at risk if people start offending the government in that country. This is not a risk I am prepared to take. This could also have consequences for repatriation efforts in that country, and again I am not prepared to risk that because of the behaviour of a few, regardless of the circumstances of that person. 

I have had to now close all efforts in China, rather than offend the government or put anyone at risk with false accusations and ill-typed dossiers. I just hope that there are fairytale endings to what can only be described as a shocking start and a major twist in the middle. DM

Darren Bergman is a DA MP, shadow minister of International Relations and Cooperation and convener of the Home Away from Home advocacy group which has been lobbying the government to return South Africans stranded abroad by the coronavirus travel restrictions.  

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