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To the Editor:
Re: “South Africans Take Out Rage on Immigrants” (May 20, 2008)
Having personally represented more than 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees in South Africa, I am not surprised by the horrific developments there.
Nor should what is happening be a surprise to President Thabo Mbeki’s government. An estimated 30 Somali refugees were killed in the fall of 2006 alone in similar violence in Cape Town.
At the time, a number of solutions were presented and similar toothless task teams were created. But these panels received no real powers. Only local government efforts made any headway.
While poverty explains some anti-immigrant violence, it is not a continuing justification, for it denies the fact that most impoverished do not attack new arrivals. Most South Africans co-exist comfortably with immigrants and are not xenophobic.
Any lasting solution will require improving IDs, educating South Africans about immigrants and asylum seekers, tracking the number of foreign victims in police stations, and giving real powers of enforcement to anti-xenophobia task forces. A short-term solution would be to establish special procedures for Zimbabwean asylum seekers at the Department of Home Affairs.
Mr. Mbeki is known as a tireless worker who holds meetings into the wee hours of the morning. His lack of effort in welcoming immigrants and refugees makes him seem culpable of willful neglect.
By Deji Olukotun
Brooklyn, May 20, 2008
The writer is the former director of the Sustained Advocacy for Empowered Refugees Project, University of Cape Town.