Pretoria accused of ‘signing death certificates’ by rejecting Afghan refugees

The reception centre for Afghan refugees organised by the Italian Red Cross in Avezzano on 1 September 2021. Italy is hosting almost 5,000 Afghan refugees who were evacuated from Kabul after the Taliban claimed control of the capital. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Massimo Percossi)

NGO Exitus seeks legal advice after South Africa refuses to temporarily accommodate 126 refugees fleeing the Taliban.

The South African government has been accused of effectively “signing death certificates” for many Afghan refugees whom it refused to allow into South Africa temporarily this week while they were processed for the US and other permanent destinations. 

Candace Rivera, CEO of the non-profit Exitus, said many in this group of 126 refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover were “high-value individuals” on the Taliban’s kill list. “They’re American allies, they did something for the Afghan government, maybe they were chief of police… a ton of female activists, female physicians, female attorneys, females who have been survivors of trauma that speak out, females who are humanitarian NGOs.”

Some of the 126 had already crossed into Pakistan, others were still in safehouses in Afghanistan where they were being actively hunted down by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Islamic State, who had already “slaughtered” others in the same predicament. Those who provided the safe houses were also being killed.

The refugees still in Afghanistan had been waiting for Exitus to confirm the flight to South Africa so that it was safe for them to move. 

Exitus battled with the South African government for six days to try to get official clearance for the refugees, being shunted from one government department to another. Eventually, on Tuesday, Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela announced that South Africa “unfortunately” could not accept the refugees and suggested the main reason was cost.  

“South Africa is already home to a substantial number of refugees and is seized with addressing their needs,” Monyela said. “Most of them already benefit from the Social Assistance and free medical health programmes offered by our country. 

“In terms of international law, the wellbeing of the refugees is best served by remaining in the first country {after} arrival – Pakistan – pending their final destinations.”

But Rivera insisted it would have cost the South African government nothing to temporarily accommodate the 126 refugees as Exitus had arranged sponsorships for all their costs including housing, food, medicine and trauma counselling. 

The reception centre for Afghan refugees set up by the Italian Red Cross in Avezzano, Italy, on 1 September 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Massimo Percossi)

The group includes about 60 children under the age of nine. Two were orphaned last week by a huge bomb blast detonated by Islamic State at Kabul airport which killed their parents as they were trying to leave the country. 

“Children are being beheaded in front of their parents,” Rivera said. “They are being hunted like animals. And we don’t have time for nations to argue about which placement they’re in for six weeks. We need to help. And for me that’s a human problem. And in the long run, if private companies are coming along and saying I will support them if you will give them refuge for a period of time until they can sort out the paperwork, why would a nation say no?

“We’re not asking for anything from South Africa except the ground {for housing} and the ground isn’t even owned by South Africa, it’s owned by a private person. 

“So there’s not a lot we need except the landing clearance on the tarmac.  Everything else is being provided and the resources to take care of them for as long as it takes for their paperwork to be processed for them to move to the US or to get the proper visas.”

Rivera said Exitus had chosen South Africa because it had a good partner in the country, the medical supply company PerryHill International, which was able to provide housing for about 800 refugees for an extended period. 

“So, nothing was needed by the South African government. We’re completely funding these individuals as well as their evacuation.”

Asked, though, whether the South African government might perhaps have taken the view that this should be America’s problem and not South Africa’s, Rivera said: “It’s not a national problem, not a country problem, not a religion problem, it’s a human problem. 

“And if we don’t stand up for people like this, if we don’t stand up for these refugees, then basically what we do is sign a death certificate. And so when we don’t do anything, we’re letting someone else take over and take their lives.”

Rivera said Exitus had decided to challenge Pretoria’s decision to reject the refugees in the South African courts and was seeking legal advice.

However, it was also exploring other destinations for the 126 refugees, though the local sponsorship made South Africa an ideal place for them.  DM


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All Comments 19

  • I guess +/- 100 additional refugees won’t hurt us, but our Zimbabwean families might think differently. By the way, where would these “lucky” people find work?

  • If people stopped fleeing from their problems and starting sorting them out, there would be no need for “refugees”. Unfortunately, this is not always possible in the real world……

  • South Africa has enough refugees from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Congo and other countries. We have millions unemployed. We do not want anymore. There is enough ethnic violence in South Africa.

  • Cry us a river all the bleeding heart people. We’re already housing 1/3 of Zimbabwe, can’t look after our own people, and some bleeding hearts want us to take in people from more than a continent away?

    I’d rather look after 100 deserving SA families on the brink of starvation than people from other countries.

  • This is self serving rubbish. We have enough refugees from Africa who are at least of similar cultures cultures without more of a completely alien culture

  • My first take is the ANC is all talk but never walks it.
    They insult Jews as often as possible, (while making deals with their ingenuity in dark rooms), and laud Palestinians till kingdom come; but how many Palestinian refugees are in SA?
    Oooh no. They are Muslim and not black enough.
    In Afghanistan, a radical misogynistic Middle Ages cabal is a threat to half the population and the ANC turns away.
    I think the problem is the racist ANC policy of who they’ll help.
    The 126 Afghan are children, or by the sounds of it highly qualified adults.
    We need as many qualified people of any origin as possible.
    But this is lost on the ANC. And a loss to SA.

  • You can’t be serious??? We’ve got enough problems here as it is. These refugees would just add another complicated burden on an already marginalized economy, health service and informal settlements! On top of that we already have thousands of illegal migrants from other countries in Africa.

  • The ANC cannot even look after its own….and has anyone mentioned xenophobia? A lot of the July looting clearly also targeted foreigners. Now it is suggested we bring in more with an already fraught situation here through incompetence, mismanagement and dare I say antipathy towards foreigners. What about all the other refugees populating our urban areas. Does not make sense, though I feel desperately sorry for these people who have been thrown to the wolves by the US.

  • Death warrants???? Ag pleeez. You are out of touch with SA murder stats, disfunctional Criminal justice system, runaway unemployment, come as you please porous borders and dilapidated Home Affairs. And why is Afghanistan our problem? The US spent 20 miserable years and left without installing their brand of democracy. Around here SA seem to be in survival mode. This ship can not take any more water.

  • It would help if we do not speed read through an article/report like this.

    This incident is another example of mankind at it’s lowest. This was purely a political decision highlighting our “puppet” relationship with China and Russia. Payback time again and it will never stop. Pleading poverty and an already overburdened refugee situation just not cut it in this particular case. We should all refrain from being ignorant.

    Many, many years ago I had the terrible opportunity to pull the trigger on some woman and children. It was expected of me to do it. My crown jewels and bleeding heart got the better of me. If push comes to shove will you really muster the courage to take the first shot?

  • Why must the Afghan refugees come to South Africa ? The distance is >8,500kms and a dozen countries in between. Why South Africa ? I smell bull droppings.

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