The 2008 wave of xenophobic attacks in post-apartheid South Africa drew attention to the growing threat that the phenomenon posed in the country. Recently, the Somali diaspora community has once again been targeted. This has resulted in Somalis living in the country and in some cities abroad organising protests to demand that the South African government address the issue.
This seminar brought together 45 participants drawn from the diplomatic community, human rights experts, journalists, policy makers and members of the Somali diaspora to discuss the issues underlying xenophobia attacks in South Africa and on the Somali community in particular.
In his opening remarks, Sivu Magunqo, who chaired the meeting, identified the large Somali community in South Africa as a significant component of the global Somali diaspora.
Amir Sheikh, Chairperson of the Somali Community Board (SCB), noted that an estimated 50 000 Somalis are currently hosted in South Africa. Since the establishment of the Somali Embassy in South Africa, however, more than 1 000 of this number have voluntarily relocated to Somalia. Those who remain in South Africa represent all professions in the country, but most of the recent migrants are entrepreneurs who trade in various commodities.
He noted that even though 2008 saw the peak of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, 2006 was the worst for the Somali community, with more than 120 shops were looted and an additional 460 Somali shops evacuated in the same year. Subsequent years have also seen significant attacks. In 2008, a total of 109 Somalis were killed and about 154 seriously injured. In 2009, 45 were killed and in 2008, 61 were killed and 42 seriously injured.
Despite this, the SCB’s reports show that less than 10% of those arrested in relation to these trends of attacks have been prosecuted. Sheikh blamed this on the inability of the Somali victims to follow through cases in court, as well as existing challenges with legal processes in the country.
He attributed the trend of xenophobic attacks on the Somali community on a number of causes, including issues of language barriers, religious differences and the lack of integration by Somalis into host communities. Ignorance about the laws of South Africa was also noted as a challenge.
He recommended that xenophobia be recognised and treated as a hate crime, and that so-called ‘hot spots’ across the country should be well monitored. There should also be a long-term national strategy that focuses on educating citizens about xenophobia and promoting co-existence and cultural diversity. He emphasised that migrants are key contributors to development in the country, and that their presence should be seen as a universal phenomenon that will remain part of every country.
Kafi Liban, Chair of HelpSom, a Somali diaspora NGO, noted that the failure of the asylum system in South Africa greatly contributes to the situation. He appealed for the Somali crisis to be seen as a global challenge.
In closing, Magunqo highlighted the importance of the numerous issues raised and indicated the readiness of the ISS to further pursue the debate. He also thanked the donors of the ISS for supporting such an important initiative.
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