The 25th session of the African Union Summit was held in South Africa on 07-15 June 2015. The summit addressed a number of issues including the issues of xenophobia, which the country grappled with. However, an African Union summit parallel event titled: Policy dialogue on promoting migration and combatting xenophobia: the role of regional mechanisms was organised. The event was attended by civil society organisations, academics, activists and individuals representing different countries.
With the backdrop of the recent xenophobic attacks and responses from countries across the continent and globally, including regional mechanisms, Amnesty International and partners hosted a high-level parallel event on the 12th of June looking into the history of xenophobic attacks in South Africa and the measures that have been put in place to address them. This panel discussion was crucial in light of South Africa’s long history of xenophobic attacks against asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. The most widely known attacks being those in 2008, which left 62 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
However, the violence has continued over the years with little or no action from the government. The recent incidents that started in Isipingo (Durban) in March 2015 have resulted in the deaths of seven people, three of whom are reported to be South African nationals, and the displacement of many others. There was a call for civil society organisations to take action in addressing these issues, as it is each and everyone’s duty to play a role in dealing with the issue.
This high-level parallel event, in the form of a panel discussion, highlighted the role that migration has played in the history of South Africa and how South Africa is intricately linked to this history of migration. It also assessed South Africa’s responses to ‘managing migration’ and further highlighted the urgent need for the government of South Africa to put in place lasting and effective measures to combat xenophobia. It was emphasized that economic situations and political persecution and people fleeing from war has seen the proliferation of refugees and migrants in South Africa. It was argued that there is need for education so that local people understand why people from different countries are coming to South Africa.
The panel also discussed the role of regional mechanisms in dealing with xenophobia in South Africa and other countries on the continent. Going forward it was discussed that there is need for a national led strategy which would focus on prevention (early warning), safety and security, protection as well as making sure that justice is served especially for those that have been killed, looted and displaced as a result of the attacks. However, people were encouraged to engage with the current government processes in dealing with the issue and also embrace the concept of Ubuntu.