Tolerance for migrants: campaign

[Image] These refugees, and thousands of others, are often the targets of fear and scorn, but a new campaign aims to promote tolerance.
(Image: UN Refugee Agency)

Gaone Dixon
IOM SA media officer
+27 12 342 2789 or +27 82 815 5161

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The International Organisation for Migration South Africa (IOM SA), in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the City of Johannesburg, has launched an educational campaign aimed at the South African public.

The campaign – I am a Migrant Too – aims to promote peace and tolerance in South African society by emphasising the fact that we who live here are virtually all descended from migrants, or are migrants ourselves.

The campaign launched on 13 November and will run until 18 December, International Migrants’ Day.

Dr Erick Ventura, acting chef de mission for IOM SA, said in a statement: “Whether I migrated from the Limpopo to Gauteng to look for work, or from another country to South Africa fleeing conflict or in search of a better life, or I fled into exile during apartheid to fight for freedom, or sent my children overseas to study, you are, we are and ‘I am a Migrant Too’.”

Looking for a brighter future

South Africa is a land of vibrant diversity and colour, the result of some 450 years of colonisation by people from lands as far away as the Netherlands, France, Ireland, England and India. But before these settlers arrived, the land was populated by people who travelled down from lands north of the Limpopo river – they in turn arrived long after the original inhabitants of the land, the San Bushmen and Khoikhoi, who had occupied the land for 100 000 years.

Early humans have, in fact, lived in Southern Africa for far longer than even these ancient people. In 1925 anthropologist Raymond Dart discovered the fossilised skull of the Taung Child, a young Australopithecus africanus who died some 2.5-million years ago, in the North West province.

This is the heritage that precedes South Africa as we know it today – and the migrants are still coming.

This situation has sparked tension in communities, and in 2008 a spate of so-called xenophobic attacks on migrants erupted around the country, leaving over 50 people dead and hundreds of others too afraid to live in their communities. Sporadic outbreaks have occurred since then, but the situation has subsided.

“South Africa is a preferred destination for migrants,” said Gaone Dixon, IOM SA’s media officer, “but there is also a lot of movement internally – mobility is not just across our borders. Our campaign aims to educate South Africans to accept this mobility as a part of society which they should try to understand.”

Dixon said that, while there can be no overlooking the fact that citizens and migrants have clashed in the past, often with deadly results, the problem has been exacerbated by the media. “The issue of foreign crimes has been fodder for newspapers, and it has led to South Africans feeling more threatened by the foreigners in their midst.”

But the campaign plans to address this issue by reminding citizens that they too are the product of migrations, whether two or three generations back or hundreds of years ago.

“Let us stop focusing on our differences, but instead concentrate on that which binds us together – our humanity,” said Dixon.

According to data the UNHCR, South Africa hosts almost 58 000 refugees and over 219 000 asylum seekers, most of them from Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. The data was accurate as of January 2012.

“The perception that migrants are a burden on society is often untrue,” said Dixon. “Just look for that community doctor, that engineer or that shop owner who is employing South Africans, to see that they are doing their best to make a contribution.”

Reaching into communities

To get the message to where it needs to go – amongst the people – IOM has approached community media such as radio stations, which will help them reach the right audience and build an attitude of tolerance by including the campaign in community discussions and programmes.

To make the concept appealing to young people, there is a poetry competition which asks entrants to frame their ideas of migration into an artistic form. Historically poetry is a powerful medium for getting social messages across, and IOM hopes that aspiring poets will take up the challenge and submit their personal interpretation of the migration phenomenon. It’s easy to enter – just visit the web page. Entry forms may also be collected from IOM offices in Pretoria.

There is an iPad and iPhone up for grabs as part of the competition and the best entries will be published in a book, to carry the message onward.

Stoan Seate, local musician, television personality and member of pop group Bongo Maffin, is the campaign’s frontman. He will encourage South Africans to live by the principles promoted in the campaign, and will also hand the winning poets their prizes.