PRETORIA, South Africa – The generosity of the South African government has ensured that over 300,000 refugees and asylum-seekers live in the country in a free and safe environment, noted UNHCR Special Envoy to the Somalia Refugee Situation.
“South Africa has a generous policy that grants asylum seekers and refugees free movement, access to jobs and public services,” said Ambassador Mohamed Abdi Affey during a recent visit to South Africa.
The Special Envoy visited Pretoria and Cape Town from 05 to 09 February and met with Government officials, the Ambassador of Somalia to South Africa and representatives from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, donors and partner agencies.
He also gave media interviews and met with Somali refugee leaders who gave him first-hand information on the challenges that Somali refugees and asylum-seekers are facing in South Africa including xenophobia, difficulties in accessing the asylum documentation as well as long asylum processes.
During his meeting with the Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, Hon. Fatima Chohan, Ambassador Affey expressed UNHCR’s gratitude to South Africa for providing asylum space for hundreds of thousands, including nearly 32,000 Somali refugees and asylum-seekers. He especially lauded the Government for its progressive policies that “UNHCR is also promoting with other countries in the region.”
“Somalia should not be forgotten,” he urged as he appealed to the South African Government to support the ongoing peace and reconstruction efforts inside the war ravaged country.
Nearly three decades since the start of the Somalia crisis, close to one million Somalis are exiled in the Horn of Africa region.
“Despite many positive developments in Somalia, the country remains fragile and requires continued support from the international community,” added the Special Envoy.
He noted that Somalia not only requires financial aid to rebuild shelters, schools and other infrastructure inside the country but also durable solutions for Somali refugees in the region through local integration and third country resettlement.
Although the situation in Somalia is not yet conducive for large scale voluntary repatriation, UNHCR is providing assistance to those individuals who have made the decision to return. Some Somalis in South Africa have expressed interest in eventually returning to Somalia; however, most of them prefer to wait until the situation in the country stabilizes.
UNHCR provides technical support to the Government of the Republic of South Africa to enhance the protection of refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people by working within national, political, economic and social structures to bring policies, practices and laws into compliance with international standards.
The Special Envoy applauded the cohesive nature of the Government’s partnership with UNHCR and other aid agencies, particularly in helping refugees to find jobs and various sources of income. The livelihood support programmes in place help refugees with micro-grants for businesses, empowerment of women’s skills, local language training and vocational skills training.
“This kind of support is crucial as it assists refugees and asylum-seekers to integrate locally and contribute productively to the local communities.”