Fear and the Foreigner

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Paula Slier, Deprose Muchena, Jayne Morgan (chair), Ray Hartle and Naveed Anjum (not pictured) provoked a stimulating conversation about contemporary migration.

“He’s a man in his early 60s, he has twelve children and we were standing in the camp and in the distance we could actually see his home in Syria. And in the middle of the interview he suddenly burst out crying…  and he then said, ‘I would rather die on the Mediterranean with my dignity intact, than continue to live here as a second class citizen, as a refugee in Lebanon,” relates Russia Today journalist, Paula Slier about a refugee interviewed in Lebanon.

When the global migration crisis is discussed, it is analysed from an economic or socio-political perspective. Are countries potentially risking their own citizens lives? Are they stable enough to host foreign nationals? These questions detract from the realities of the situation; fellow human beings are fleeing their homes which have descended into chaos in order to fight for their lives.

While South Africa is praised for its outstanding constitution which protects the interests of its citizens, foreign nationals do not have the same rights. As Daily Dispatch writer Ray Hartle says, “there is not a single law in South Africa which defines xenophobia, and xenophobia is not outlawed”.

Xenophobic attacks are often said to result from fear, but where does this fear come from? “The numbers in South Africa are minuscule; less than three percent of the population is foreign. But we have this amazing sense that vast hordes of people are flooding across our borders,” says Hartle.

The fear-mongering and violence surrounding migrants is a result of global developmental issues. “We have to look at [the refugee crisis] as a crisis of development, a crisis of global leadership”, says Deprose Muchena, Regional Director of Amnesty International’s Southern Africa regional office.

“If you manage migration as a developmental issue, the prospects of resolution will be much higher. Not forgetting to mainstream the rights of refugees, their rights as individuals, putting the human back in the rights of refugees, is a critical part of managing this crisis,” explains Muchena. “This is why we have xenophobia. When citizens don’t have bread on the table they look at the weakest denominator anywhere in the country.”

This is particularly evident with South Africa’s recent surges of xenophobic violence. “The vast majority of people who are victimised are the marginalised living in townships, in high density areas, with no legal papers, no documents, and having to eke out a living if they’re fortunate,” says Hartle.

The panel, which comprised Slier, Muchena, Hartle, as well as Islamic activist, Naveed Anjum and chaired by Jayne Morgan of Grocott’s Mail, discussed possible steps forward towards a solution.

“Leadership is the centre of resolving the refugee crisis,” suggests Muchena, and therein lies the problem. “We live now, from a human rights perspective, in a post-American world and the UK just joined that last week. We can no longer look to those countries, the US, the European Union, the UK in particular as leaders in global human rights discourse and management.”

These countries which are portrayed as world leaders are eager to intervene when it suits personal interests. If there is opportunity to pillage a country for its resources and cheap labour, first world countries and their transnational corporations offer aid, which often resolves only the media hype around a crisis, but does nothing to improve the lives of refugees.

“We should not have schizophrenic attitudes of the leaders. We should not have double standards and rightfully said, we should be open and criticise the big nations, the developed nations. They have used immigrants to go ahead with their development, but once they have achieved their goal, [they] don’t want to accept or help the immigrants,” says Anjum.

The recent announcement that the UK withdrew from the European Union is evidence of this. “The Brexit outcome last week has taken the insanity of fear-mongering over new foreigners to new heights,” Hartle asserts.

Countries in the UK are confronted with issues of security, such as whether Islamic spies are part of the migrants that enter their countries. Perhaps this is reflexive of neo-liberal societies which value self-preservation over humanity.  There is also the argument that countries such as Greece struggle to help their own citizens and cannot afford to host any more. However, as Hartle asserts, “If you look at the numbers that the EU is afraid to host, against the numbers that countries so poor, like Kenya, DRC, Zimbabwe, Malawi are hosting, you actually wonder where the crisis of civilisation is going towards.”

In addition, when First World countries do intervene, it often results in more devastation. “You get involved and you create Libya that today is complete chaos, or you don’t get involved and you create millions of refugees who are coming across to Europe looking for a safe place. So we talk about a global leadership crisis but it’s very difficult to know what the global leaders should do,” reflects Slier.

In attempting to rethink how we view this crisis and the people involved, Anjum offers us this quote:

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