Maverick Citizen

Maverick Citizen Op-Ed

Life as a refugee in South Africa: We face danger every single day

Who is responsible for allowing discrimination and the killing of refugees and asylum seekers in cold blood and allowing the perpetrators to get away with it, asks the writer. (Photo: forbes.com / Wikipedia)

I am one of the victims of robbery and xenophobic attacks. This is self-hatred. This is racism against one’s own skin, race and colour. But why? I see many crying for George Floyd on social media and on TV. His murder made me emotional too. But it is worse in South Africa, it happens to refugees every day and no one gives a damn.

Let me tell you my story.

Where I live, refugees are killed and robbed every single day. We are not even sure we will come back from work alive.

Our lives are in danger but no one cares about it or pays attention to what is happening to us. We live in darkness and hopelessness. We cannot walk freely or ask for our rights. No one cares how or if we survive. No one cares that we are systematically discriminated against and abused.

When you go to the police station, they say, “We will let you know”, or they tell you, “Go back to your country”. It has been four years since my husband’s murder and no one has been arrested and prosecuted.

Where is the justice? Where is the justice for all the refugee blood shed in the streets?

As I mentioned in my article on 15 July, many of my friends have been murdered and some have been disabled by violent crime. I have not seen one criminal caught and brought to justice.

There is no doubt white people are privileged. They go through life without any fear of being judged or discriminated against. This gives them more freedom and control of power and domination against people of colour. Most black people, especially black males, have always been victims of systemic discrimination. They lack confidence and suffer self-hatred. They are depressed, they feel inferior, they are unable to accept themselves and the values we hold as a community.

We all know this is true. We see it happening everywhere in the world. We have seen white people who understand that and are marching against any kind of discrimination and oppression in great numbers in #BlackLivesMatter protests. We have to be thankful for that. It is a very big and necessary step.    

But this is not my point. My point is Africa. My point is us.

When it comes to Africa, who has privilege over fellow brothers and sisters? Who is responsible for allowing discrimination and the killing of refugees and asylum seekers in cold blood and allowing the perpetrators to get away with it?

Who cares about us?

I have never seen or heard of a white person in South Africa (or in Africa for that matter) attacking refugees or asylum seekers. I have never seen a white person loot shops and belongings or kill refugees violently and brutally.

But I have seen and heard, with my own eyes and ears, hatred, racism, looting, assault and killing by many who share my skin colour – my African brothers and sisters.

This is racism against one’s own skin, race and colour. But why? I see many crying for George Floyd on social media and on TV. His murder made me emotional too. But it is worse in South Africa and happens to refugees every day — and no one gives a damn.

Asylum seekers are discriminated against when applying for the R350 social grant. How on earth are we, living human beings, with families to support, going to survive this pandemic without having a job or any means of income or support?

Have you not seen refugees being burned alive with tyres? Have you not seen the recent xenophobic attacks, which are terrifying to watch with refugees being bludgeoned to death with rocks?

What kind of human being does that? How many sisters of ours are being raped, not only by civilians but by law enforcement officers? 

How can you kill your own race and your own African brothers and sisters? 

The question is, what did we do to you? We left our countries of origin to seek asylum from war and political instability. We looked for safety and for a better life; but things are worse here. Where can we go?

Too many people are being hijacked. Too many of our sisters and children are being raped; too many killings and not enough arrests. There is systemic abuse, mistreatment and discrimination against migrants and refugees.

Where does all of this hating your own skin and killing of your fellow brothers and sisters come from?

I believe everybody has some element of prejudice. That is natural and we all can show prejudice from time to time. But it has become all too much in South Africa, it is out of control and will destroy and burn us.

When we have so many prejudices, we will start setting borders for everything we think is ours; we will even make borders for everyone who we think is part of us. When we do this, that border becomes a danger zone for anyone who touches or passes the border. We set our brain to treat him or her as a threat and start attacking without any good reason.

Then everyone becomes an “enemy” in the places we live. Out of fear and instability, we will blame everything that happens in our lives on the “enemy” we have created in our minds. That is dangerous. We might attack and destroy everyone and everything we see.

Thousands of refugees in South Africa are jobless now. They are sick and suffering without food and shelter. They are sleeping in the streets, in parks and in garages. They are even sleeping at the gates of the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but no one seems to care about them. Meanwhile, many South Africans are sleeping in a warm bed and eating warm food.

Asylum seekers are discriminated against when applying for the R350 social grant. How on earth are we, living human beings, with families to support, going to survive this pandemic without having a job or any means of income or support?

What do you call this?

We all are humans, beautiful creatures. We all have a heart and emotions. We all have minds of our own and the ability to separate good from evil. The world has more than enough space for all of us, but only if we love and care for each other. We have seen the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are still losing too many of our loved ones to the virus.

I just hope we can come together and care for one another. It is time for all of us, as African brothers and sisters, to come together. This is the time to be united. This is the time to stop killing and discriminating against each other.

We need equal and fair treatment. We want justice, we want our rights to be recognised and respected. We are humans too and our lives matter too.

Let us stand together. Let us take action and let us say it louder! #Refugeelivesmattertoo. DM/MC

Eyasu Mengistu is not the writer’s real name, which Maverick Citizen is aware of.

On Friday a new webinar series, Building Solidarity in the Time of Covid-19, will explore issues of migrancy and inclusion in the Covid world. 

The webinars are jointly presented by Maverick Citizen, Liliesleaf, Lawyers for Human Rights and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The idea for the series arose from conversations between these partners about seeing this time of Covid-19 as not only a time of severe crisis but also a time of opportunity. One of these opportunities is to rekindle old notions of solidarity between people and, importantly, between countries in southern Africa.

The webinar series is focused on the impact of, and policy responses to, Covid-19 on foreign nationals (refugees and migrants) in South Africa. According to the organisers: “It is one thing to harness moral outrage, but another to shift thinking and effect structural change. We have to go deeper than simply addressing the surface manifestations of xenophobia and have to challenge not only government’s response, which varies from reactive, unjust and unconstitutional to corrupt, but also those from business and civil society in general. We have to move away from a situation where migration is kept on the edges and treated as a silo rather than integral to modern society and all issues of governance and rights.”

The webinars will situate migration as an international phenomenon that is not going to stop. In fact, it is going to accelerate. We have to plan for it, not be in denial about it and think we can manage it through repressive means. How are progressive states – which we claim to be – planning for migration in the region?

If you are interested and would like to participate, contact [email protected] to receive the Zoom link.

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