Johannesburg, 3 March 2015 – UNHCR, IOM and UNICEF joined forces with the Mail and Guardian African Truth Dialogues to have a debate on xenophobia held at WITS University. The panel discussion included Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR Regional Representative for Southern Africa, Richard Ots, IOM Chief of Mission, Andries Viviers, Education Specialist at UNICEF, Her Excellency Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke, Nigerian Consulate General, Jean Pierre-Misago, researcher at the African Center Migrations Studies and Marc Gbaffou, Chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum.
The event was moderated by Xolani Gwala, host of the popular afternoon drive show on Radio 702.
Attended by over 200 people, the event sought to really highlight the issues around xenophobia in South Africa. The event which took place in Senate Hall at the Wits University was one of many regularly hosted by the Mail & Guardian Africa, a Pan- African digital news portal to inspire dialogue among diverse African society members to address issues affecting the status quo and image of the African narrative.
The debate comes after the recent resurgence of wide-spread violence against foreign nationals across the country which erupted in Soweto in late January. UNHCR and IOM, along with many other organizations have since been engaging with the government, media and civil society through discussions to work on collective solution to prevent recurrence of such attacks.
Nkweta Salami highlighted the need to respect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and also called on them to respect the laws of the country. IOM Representative, Richard Ots noted the historical context of migration and the positive socio-economics impact the migrants make in their host communities. Adding to this, Andries Viviers from UNICEF noted how xenophoba impacts negatively on children and families.
The key note address was given by the Nigerian Consul- General, Uche Ajulu-Okeke who highlighted the strong ties between Nigeria and South Africa and urged the country to take steps to prevent xenophobic attacks. ACMS researcher, Misago shared outcomes of research undertaken by ACMS on xenophobia in South Africa which helped frame the debate.
The lively debate following the key note address called for innovative ideas and a human rights based approach to addressing the complicated issue of xenophobia.
The common call was the need for more dialogue to advance education on refugee rights, migration issues, human rights, and social cohesion .