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#WorldRefugeeDay: Seeking a better life in SA

Cape Argus

Cape Town – Tendai Bhiza fled her home in Zimbabwe 13 years ago for a better life.

She left behind her infant.

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SEEKING REFUGE: Raho Hassen waits under a bridge on the Foreshore for Home Affairs officials to call her name. She is one of thousands who try to obtain their refugee status documents. They start queuing as early as 1am. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA Pictures

Starting a new life in South Africa, she began working as a casual on Greenmarket Square.

"I left because I was affected politically and spiritually in my home town. It really affected me badly. My church was no longer safe for me because my church was considered as an opposition church because Morgan Tsvangirai’s first wife attended the church," Bhiza said.

She is one of a million refugees in South Africa.

As World Refugee Day is celebrated, Bhiza said there are still many challenges facing refugees daily.

"We face a lot of challenges especially regarding documentation problems. I also struggled to get my child into a school when he arrived," she said.

Bhiza works at Passop (People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty), a community-based non-profit human rights organisation. Bhiza works as a human rights advocate.

"Being a human rights advocate is extremely challenging especially in Africa, because people do not understand what their rights are."

At the regional Home Affairs office at Customs House along Cape Town's Foreshore, thousands of refugees line up daily to check on the status of their applications, or to update their documentation.

Asylum seeker Hussein Baahir Ibraahim said he feels lost.

"No one cares about us here, they don't look after us here."

Somali refugee Hussein Mohomed has been struggling to update his documentation.

"I have missed work for a month and no one is telling me anything."

World Refugee Day has become a crucial day on the United Nations calendar.

"We celebrate the strength and the courteousness of refugees," the UN's human rights agency UNHCR spokesperson Markku Aikomus said. "Many of them were forced to flee their countries and are slowly now building their lives.

"We want the world on this day to stand together along with refugees," Aikomus said.

By the end of 2016 there were some 65.6 million refugees globally, a million of them living in South Africa.

While many do contribute positively to the economy, the high number of refugees in the country is concerning for independent economist Daniel Silke.

"On the basis that we have a 27% unemployment rate, it is highly problematic that we have such a high level of refugees in our country.

"I have to say we have managed really well to put a lid on xenophobic violence and we’ve been able to keep the animosity at bay."

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Cape Argus

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