Child victims of xenophobia
Adult hate crimes can lead to damaged kids but compassionate parenting is one way to resolve this.
I answered the phone in the AIDS Law Project offices. A voice spoke to me in fractured English: My niece has been raped. She is 13 and the clinic and the police won’t help her. It turned out that the cops refused to help this young Somali girl and the clinic refused to give her Post-Exposure Prophylaxis medication to counteract possible exposure to HIV.

It was 2008 and in the thick of the xenophobia crisis. I was working in the office where we attempted to coordinate humanitarian relief to safety camps as well as working as advocates for the displaced foreign nationals that had been hounded out of their homes. We had endless meetings with government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and many NGOs and faith-based organisations all attempting to resolve this humanitarian disaster. Some minor successes were frustrated by many failures to agree over several months.

Groundhog day? Not if we act now

Now that xenophobic violence is taking place again in parts of Johannesburg as locals target shops and businesses owned by foreign nationals for looting, I’m thinking back to that turbulent time just seven years ago and wondering how we forgot to create a safer, more compassionate society.

The same arguments are coming up: locals are angry that “foreigners” are setting up successful businesses. They want them to “go home”. Government is, again, saying that these targeted acts of violence are criminal acts rather than xenophobia. This is an important point. Xenophobia against foreign nationals would require an entirely different approach to the looting and violence. Not just a handful of local police stationed at hotspots and, purportedly, who are themselves facilitating the looting.

The UNHCR must intervene if government is seen to be neglecting to protect vulnerable refugees, asylum seekers and even undocumented immigrants. Did the Department of Home Affairs ever manage to get through the backlog of hundreds of thousands of applications for temporary residency or asylum? No- seven years later, the queues are longer than ever. The war in Somalia rages on, so no Somali can be repatriated there, according to international convention.

Internationally, however, some changes in policy were made after the period of unrest across North Africa and the Middle East known as the “Arab Spring” in 2010. The conflicts displaced millions of people, and this meant that international conventions on the protection of migrants had to be virtually rewritten. Countries that were host to an influx of refugees scrambled to avoid having to take responsibility for their care, but, ultimately, it was recognised by theInternational Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families that not enough was being done.

What about the kids?

Central to the issue of xenophobia is the safety of children of foreign nationals. When their parents are hounded out of communities, their children are also affected, often forced to leave their schools. Even if they have access to schools, they may be bullied by locals. In seven years, little has been done to protect the children of foreign nationals in the school environment, despite this being one of their inalienable rights. It’s an internationally recognised right and truth that the protection of vulnerable children comes first, and that right is placed above the dithering about other issues on the part of government agencies.

Back to 2008: more than 50 people were murdered, and tens of thousands forced out of their homes. They had to live in UNHCR tents (tents made for warmer climates, not the brutal Cape winter storms). At one point we had to petition Cameron Dugmore, the then MEC for Education in the Western Cape on behalf of the 600 children living in these camps. The children had inadequate food and no access to safe toilets, education and, where applicable, nappies. The DoE couldn’t guarantee safe passage to schools, so teachers came to the camps.

Call it what it is and fix it

And here we are again in 2015. The violence is spreading rapidly, and children are being affected. The parents who have been working hard against huge odds to set up businesses to care for their families are watching as their work is destroyed and the safety of their families is, once again, compromised.

It’s not enough to dismiss these as criminal acts.

It’s xenophobia.

A criminal act would be to compromise the safety of foreign nationals, especially including vulnerable single mothers, pregnant women, children, the elderly and disabled.
How about government at a national and local level steps up to the plate this time and takes concerted preventative and restorative measures in those communities affected by this wave of violence?

After all, parents all want the best for their kids, whether those parents are displaced from war-torn countries or sitting in government.

Scott Dunlop was part of the task team set up to deal with the xenophobia crisis in the Western Cape in 2008.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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