Female refugees face particular problems

The particular issues and challenges of female refugees were the focus of a Women’s Month event at the Joburg Metro Centre that included the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (Cormsa), the Department of Home Affairs, and the city of Johannesburg.

Home Affairs Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan said the winds of change had brought economic emancipation. “The African consumer market is of great interest to investors and Africa is still the great untold story. We want, as women, an Africa that is peaceful, prosperous and celebrates diversity. This is the birthplace of humankind… We are underrepresented in all spheres, political, social and economic. We must empower women.” (Image: DHA)

Melissa Jane-Cook

August is Women’s Month in South Africa and discussions, events and celebrations are held throughout the month. South Africans should “support social cohesion, move the agenda for women forward, encourage social economic empowerment and eliminate violence against women and children”, said Nonceba Molwele, Joburg’s mayoral committee member for health and social development, speaking at the event on 25 August.

Cormsa executive director Sicel’mpilo Shange-Buthane brought attention to migrant issues and migrant rights. “We need to highlight women. Woman all over the world face challenges and struggles, but in a foreign land it is even worse. There are issues that need to be addressed, what it means to be a human being and how in a foreign land the conditions are not always favourable for women to thrive.”

Frequently, these were family issues that could not be resolved. Migrant and refugee women who turned to the police were often ridiculed and not offered help. “There is great discrimination that women and children face,” said Shange-Buthane.

Cormsa, a non-profit organisation, promotes and protects the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and international migrants. Members include legal practitioners, research units, and refugee and migrant communities. In meeting its mandate, it develops working relationships with service providers, government departments and other stakeholders.

Home Affairs Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan said the winds of change had brought economic emancipation. “The African consumer market is of great interest to investors and Africa is still the great untold story. We want, as women, an Africa that is peaceful, prosperous and celebrates diversity. This is the birthplace of humankind… We are underrepresented in all spheres, political, social and economic. We must empower women.”

Her department had a key role to play in the safety and security of South Africa and its citizens. “It contributes directly to three of the 12 national outcomes – that all people in South Africa should feel and be safe, that our country should have a skilled and capable workforce to support an inclusive growth path, and that we need to develop an empowered, fair and inclusive citizenship.”

The management of refugees, legal services and the front office improvement project, her specific areas of responsibility, were all linked to these outcomes. “South Africa is part of a global world where the security and socio-economic realities in one country impact on the security and economy of other countries.

“On the one hand, we have an obligation in terms of our values as a nation to fulfil our constitutional and international obligations to protect persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution or are escaping from life-threatening situations. To this end, we need to adjudicate asylum seekers efficiently, fairly and humanely and integrate those persons accorded refugee status into our communities,” she said.

“On the other hand, we need to put a stop to the large scale abuse of the asylum seeker system in South Africa as this places genuine asylum seekers at a disadvantage and creates social and economic risks for the country.”

South Africans would agree that there had been steadfast improvement in the Department of Home Affairs. “We remain committed to further improve our operations to ensure that we have a safe and secure South Africa where people are proud of, and value, their identity and citizenship.”

In terms of the National Development Plan’s objective to facilitate faster and more inclusive economic growth, the country needed refugee policies, legislation and processes that would address national priorities, maximise benefits and reduce risks to the country.

To achieve this, the department would, among other steps:

• Finalise the implementation of its policy position to relocate refugee reception centres closer to borders, with the help of the Public Works Department;

• Improve international co-operation, especially in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), regarding the management of asylum seekers and refugees; and,

• Develop an immigration policy document that proposes strategies for the management of unskilled economic migration to streamline the refugee process and to integrate genuine refugees into South African society.

About the second point, Chohan said agreement was needed between SADC countries on how to manage refugees and asylum seekers who were nationals of third countries, as well as how to implement the first safe country principle.

The challenges were two-fold: to create access to the formal economy for those who had no access, and to help women move up the corporate ladder if they were already in the economic landscape. “Africa must work towards achieving peace. As women we must own the continent; we must make sure she prospers and ensure we are on the move.”

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