Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Sunday, June 20, 2004

World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day. Although the number of refugees is down there are still an estimated 17 million reugees globally. The worst refugee crisis at present is in Darfur in Sudan where hundreds of thousands of civilians are facing starvation.

In South Africa, last year alone, 55 000 Zimbabweans (not technically having been given refugee status but rather called illegal immigrants)were expelled back to Zimbabwe. Refugee status is difficult to obtain. "Up till September last year, only nine Zimbabweans had been granted refugee status. There have been a total of about 1 500 applications seeking asylum and these are being examined."

In South Africa, World Refugee Day focused on problems around the issue of xenophobia.
According to the United Nations there are an estimated 140 000 refugees in the country, mostly from other African countries. "Last year, South Africa's parliament heard that there were 24,000 recognised refugees in the country, with 51,000 asylum applications pending. Most asylum applicants came from the DRC, Angola, Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Nigeria."

In Johannesburg, most refugees land up in Hillbrow where there are a number of shelters that try to assist as much as possible. Two, I think are run by the UN, but mostly they're run by church groups. Refugees are subject to discrimination and harrassment from the local population who see them as taking jobs away. They also live in constant fear of being arrested and deported. Among them are former child soldiers, who have made their way to South Africa in the most harrowing of circumstances.

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