South Africa's refugee crisis needs a humane solution
The current impasse between foreign nationals and the United Nations necessitates a compassionate, humane and practical solution involving the UN, various organs of the South African government and the governments of origin of the foreign nationals.
The foreign nationals don't want to stay in South Africa. That is an established fact. They have been targeted, live in fear, their documents are not accepted and they are rapidly becoming unemployable for a myriad of reasons in an economically depressed and socially challenged South Africa.
The complication in this whole matter arises from the request of the foreign nationals to be granted asylum in a third country and not be repatriated to their country of origin (this is understandable given the terrible history of conflict in Africa).
But is there any "third" country that is willing to accept these stranded men, women and children? If yes, then they need to be moved as soon as all related processes are completed. If no country wants to accept then it has to be a choice of repatriation to their country of origin or remain in South Africa.
The hard decision they have to make, is it better to return to the countries they departed from or remain in South Africa, where the hope of a better life for asylum seekers, economic migrants and the like, has all but evaporated. Contemplating on such a life directing decision needs deep introspection and a stable, secure environment.
No matter what likes or dislikes South Africans may have around foreign nationals for whatever reason, these are essentially human beings, people like us, women, children and the elderly, all are not criminal, all are not whatever negative concept we want to conjecture in our prejudiced minds driven by stereotypes of some or other experience. Babies and children are involved here, women who are vulnerable, even men who may have "run" because of monstrosities in their country of origin.
All they want is an opportunity to live peacefully, in dignity and to provide their families with stability and security.
Yes, it is clear that elements of vice, drug peddling, human trafficking and extortion arise from within their ranks, but that is no justification to tarnish entire communities with the same brush of xenophobic hatefulness. We are fortunate that we were not born in their countries for we could have been in their situation now. Yes, we had our own challenges and it wasn't pretty, but we survived and we overcame.
Our Ubuntu spirit can surely allow us to embrace, or at least not harm, a fellow human and that too of African origin.
The United Nations working in tandem with the South African and relevant African governments should set up a camp of safety and dignity with all amenities (if the foreigners don't want to return to the areas where they were living until a few weeks ago) whilst plans are made, of repatriation, in all likelihood, to their own countries.
Gift of the Givers salutes the Methodist Church and its religious leaders for the generosity of spirit in embracing a "broken" people. The SAPS have a tough job to do, the challenges are many, they live lives fraught with danger, but they need to exercise calmness, a cool temperament and a measured response especially when dealing with women and children.
There has been an outpouring of condemnation from South Africans on the numerous high profile gender based crimes in recent weeks. Women need to be treated with respect, irrespective of the circumstances, are they any less of a woman being a foreign national?
Gift of the Givers have intervened with blankets for the refugees, greater support will follow on Thursday with meals, diapers, sanitary pads, bottled water and above all, compassion and reassurance.
* Imtiaz Sooliman is the founder, director and chairman of Gift of the Givers, a relief organisation which operates internationally.