On World Refugee Day, foreign nationals gathered to speak about why they fled their home countries, and how they found life in Johannesburg.
PHILLIPE Longhe watched in horror as his pharmacy was looted during protests against Mobutu Sese Seko, the president of Zaire, the country now known as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Phillipe LongheCongolese Phillipe Longhe is building a new life in South AfricaDisillusioned by the destruction of his only source of income and with the country on the verge of a war, Longhe decided to pack his bags and try his luck in South Africa – that was 17 years ago.
“I got discouraged by the loss of my business and could not find the strength to rebuild my life,” said Longhe. He arrived in South Africa in 1994 and stayed with a friend in Westdene, a suburb in the west of Johannesburg.
His first year in South Africa was difficult as he could not speak a single word of English. Given the language barrier, he was forced to find what work he could, eking out a living as a domestic helper earning R20 a month.
This was followed by a string of part time jobs that involved stock taking and distributing pamphlets to passers-by in the street. He suddenly laughs when he remembers he once almost got hit by a car while distributing pamphlets.
In 1996, Longhe’s fortunes changed for the better when he was employed as a pharmacist at Johannesburg General Hospital. He was the first black pharmacist to dispense medicine in the hospital and to train interns studying pharmacology.
Although he had not mastered English, Longhe used signs to communicate with patients. “When you put your hopes in God, something will always come up,” he explained.
Longhe was later employed by the health care company, Adcock Ingram, before he opened his own pharmaceutical business in Yeoville.
Daniel Kazadi, another citizen of the DRC, fled his country two years ago after he was beaten and raped by soldiers while preaching in church. While talking, he points repeatedly to the scars on his face that he sustained during the beating.
Executive mayor Parks Tau speaks Executive mayor Parks Tau: integration of refugees is crucial“I left my country because I felt that the government could not protect me anymore,” he explained.
Kazadi was beaten by soldiers for supporting another political party and preaching against the government to his congregation. He managed to escape the jaws of death after a sympathetic soldier helped him escape further beatings.
“I am living in peace here in Yeoville and work as a security guard to support my family.” And he is grateful he is now able to preach the word of God without being harassed.
Tobanga Ebotu is yet another refugee from the DRC. He fled after government troops destroyed his shop. Ebotu’s crime was that he lived in the town in which Mobuto Sese Seko was born.
“The government was suspicious of us and thought we were probably planning to overthrow them,” Ebotu explained.
He is unemployed in Joburg, and survives by helping out friends with businesses whenever they need help. “The money is not enough for me to survive. I struggle every time to pay rent and buy food for myself.”
Despite his plight, Ebotu hopes to study English and open a business. “I want to learn more about computer software and start my own business,” he said.
World Refugee Day
These are some of the many stories that were told by refugees on World Refugee Day on Monday, 20 June. They had gathered to observe the day at Yeoville Recreation Centre. The suburb, in the east of Joburg, has a large migrant population, with people from many African countries living there.
The World Refugee Day is held annually to draw attention to the plight of refugees and celebrate their courage and resilience.
City officials, government officials and members of several non-governmental organisations joined the community in Yeoville in commemorating this day with an array of activities that included education and celebration.
MMC Nonceba MolweleMMC Nonceba MolweleThe member of the mayoral committee for health and human development, Nonceba Molwele, said World Refugee Day was an opportunity to recognise the contribution that refugees made to their host countries.
“The event will help us learn more about the challenges and responsibilities faced by the refugees.”
On 4 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 55/76, declaring that World Refugee Day would be marked each year on 20 June, starting in 2001. In this resolution, the General Assembly noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees
Johannesburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau said the City had adopted a policy of integration of migrants. “The policy is based on the premise that the process of integration should be understood as a two-way that involves new arrivals and the local people, “said Tau.
A manageable and realistic action plan had been developed and continued to be enhanced to respond to growing challenges, he explained.
He also expressed concern about the random acts of violence and intimidation of migrants. “We call on the police to act swiftly to bring those responsible for such criminality to book.”
The deputy minister of home affairs, Fatima Chohan, said South Africa had more asylum seekers to deal with than all 27 countries of the European Union combined.
“The reason why we have such a high level of applicants is partly because our asylum management process is lacking in many respects,” said Chohan. “We are alive to the weaknesses in the system and are concerned that the huge influx of applications from individuals intent on abusing the relatively simple process of regularisation serves to disadvantage genuine refugees.”
Chohan explained that the amendments to the Refugee Act promulgated in parliament were intended to streamline the process of application for asylum by making it more efficient and credible for those who sought protection.
“We are now proposing committees that will decide on the status of applications. Members of these committees will have different expertise required to adjudicate such matters and are expected to make decisions efficiently while restoring the integrity of the process,” said Chohan.
The audience were able to question Chohan about the Home Affairs Department, and they asked about the closure of the Johannesburg refugee centre in Crown Mines and the fate of newcomers crossing the borders.
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