26 February 2016
|Ismail, originally from Somalia, through his efforts and those of JRS, can run his business in peace, in a very impoverished and crime-ridden informal settlement. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)|
|This intervention by JRS not only assisted refugees and asylum seekers - the people we work with – but other cross-border/foreign migrants as well.|
Pretoria, 26 February 2016 - Economic inequality, the resultant poverty of many South Africans and the extreme competition for limited resources has been attributed to some of the xenophobic violence we saw emerge in South Africa a year ago, during January and April 2015. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in South Africa therefore recognizes that it is duty-bound, in the work it does, to foster good relations between refugees and asylum seekers that live within many of South Africa’s impoverished communities.
However, JRS is not alone in this work as many of the refugees and asylum seekers we work with, are our strongest allies in fostering these community ties. Take the case of Ismail, from Baidoa in Somalia, who left his home country due to the ongoing war and has been living in South Africa since 1994. In October 2009, people within the informal settlement, where Ismail runs his business, started erecting their shacks on land owned by a major private enterprise. The people were then evicted, the shacks were demolished and despite the fact that Ismail’s business was not built on the disputed land, his place of business was demolished as well. However, before the demolition, his shop was completely ransacked and looted.
Ismail then approached JRS for assistance in rebuilding his livelihood, his business. He explains: “That was a very bad time for us all.” JRS assisted him with purchasing him stock to begin trading again. JRS not only assisted Ismail and other refugees and asylum seekers to rebuild their businesses, but JRS reached out to the local community forums and facilitated meetings for improved co-operation and co-existence. This intervention by JRS not only assisted refugees and asylum seekers - the people we work with – but other cross-border/foreign migrants as well. It achieved what it set out to, to create a sense of community between people from other countries and locals who see them as economic competitors.
Ismail explains: “We often had problems with locals. We had great difficulty establishing relationships with people within the community, we encountered a lot of xenophobia. Eventually things have worked out. We have realized that tensions rise when people who claim to be community leaders, use us as an easy target and blame us for the wrongs in communities.”
Today, Ismail and other cross-border migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are part the community and add to its well-being. For unemployed local youth, that live in the informal settlement on the outskirts of the Pretoria city centre, a new opportunity to fight crime whilst earning an income has emerged. These young people collect 100 Rand a month from the businesses in the community and in return patrol the streets by night and so prevent robberies and burglaries.
Today, Ismail is part of this community, the cordial exchanges of greetings and chit-chat from the local community is a welcome sight despite previous incidents of blatant xenophobia in the past. His shop is a sprawling supermarket, a far cry from the business that was left with nothing following the looting of all those years back. It is not perfect by any means, as there were incidents of looting in 2011, 2012 and he chose to close his business during the xenophobic violence of last year. It is however a significant improvement where a refugee businessman such as himself, can run a business in peace, in a very impoverished and crime-ridden informal settlement.
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