Combating xenophobia, focusing on migration and diaspora

Zimbabwean civil society leader Ms Thoko Matshe, Africa Programme Manager for the Olof Palme International Centre which is a key SALO partner in its work on migration, diaspora and combating xenophobia

Because of South Africa’s position as the continent’s largest economy and one of its most stable and open democracies, it attracts people from across the continent. In particular, conflicts in the Southern African region and elsewhere on the continent, impact directly on South Africa through the presence of migrants and refugees from conflict-affected countries. SALO addresses this dimension of South Africa’s continental role in several ways:

  • By engaging diaspora groups from conflict-affected countries to be involved in discussions about their country’s political transition, and by linking South African and home country decision-makers with diaspora perspectives;
  • By conducting advocacy for better implementation and protection of migrant and refugee rights in South Africa; and
  • By working with South African civil society and citizens to combat xenophobic violence and xenophobic attitudes and practices towards foreign migrants and refugees.

Many of SALO’s focus countries have significant diasporas in South Africa, not least Zimbabwe, Swaziland, the DRC and Somalia. These groups have important roles to play in their respective countries’ political transformation and stabilisation. In addition to including diaspora representatives and groups into its public Building International Consensus Forums, SALO also uses informal meetings to link diaspora groups with South African civil society organisations who share similar concerns, and with South African government actors involved in conflict transformation in their home countries.

While South Africa has a strong legal framework enshrining basic rights for migrants and refugees, not least through an inclusive Constitution and Bill of Rights, the effective implementation of these protections is insufficient. In addition to contravening basic human rights and South Africa’s own laws, discrimination and exclusion of migrants in South Africa also has negative impacts on their ability to help stabilise their home countries.

As part of its principle of regional solidarity, SALO therefore advocates at all levels to improve the position of migrants and refugees living in South Africa, as well as conditions for the poor and marginalised host communities within which many migrants live.

Of particular concern to SALO is the relationship between migrants from the region and South African citizens. As much as the South African government is taking a leading role in constructively engaging in conflicts on the continent, South Africa’s citizens are often not well informed about the history and present of other countries in Africa. Migrants are an important point of contact between ordinary citizens and the rest of the continent. Often, however, relations between migrants and citizens in South Africa has been characterised by conflict and discrimination rather than mutual exchange and learning.

A particularly egregious form of discrimination is xenophobic violence targeting foreign nationals. Since May 2008, when hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals were forcibly evicted from townships and informal settlements around the country and at least 62 people were killed, xenophobic violence has been in the public eye nationally, regionally and internationally, and high levels of violence against foreign migrants have continued since.

SALO works with South African communities through education campaigns on the nature and histories of conflicts in neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Swaziland, the DRC and Somalia. This is done through workshops and the presentation and discussion of videos about the conflicts. SALO has also produced a video about xenophobic violence.

The aims are to increase South African understanding of the reasons for migration from these countries as a means of increasing dialogue with migrants, as well as building a constituency for the South African government’s efforts to build peaceful resolutions to the crises in these countries.

SALO’s work to counter xenophobia and xenophobic violence, and to work particularly towards increasing the rights and voice of migrants and refugees from Zimbabwe and Swaziland, is supported by the Olof Palme International Centre among others. SALO works in partnership with a range of organisations including the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum; People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP); Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa.

Research on the impact of limited access to health services for migrants: 

SALO carried out community-based interviews on the impact of limited access to health services on migrants and how the lack of access to essential medicines like anti-retrovirals and TB drugs affects community members. Click here for the paper.

Xenophobia and migrant policy brief and DVD: 

SALO produced an analytical policy paper that unpacks the context of xenophobic violence and makes recommendations. This is complemented by a video documentary which has been screened hundreds of times at community meetings and on Cape Town’s community TV station.  Click here for the paper.