If one were to table a hierarchy of privilege in our South Africa, asylum-seeking women would be close to the bottom of this list.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples rights came into force on 21 October 1986. One of its many aims was to eradicate all forms of colonialism in Africa, to promote the collective enjoyment of rights and freedoms for the people of Africa and to eliminate all forms of discrimination particularly those based on race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion and political opinion.
It may be easy to lose focus on the purpose of the day and be drawn to the celebrations. However, before celebrating the achievements of the African Union and the African Commission, it is important to reflect on the issues which continue to plague the continent and its most vulnerable groups, particularly those issues which directly affect South Africa. We wish to draw attention to the plight of the asylum seeker and refugee women and highlight the epidemic of rape when used as a weapon of war.
The asylum-seeking and refugee processes are governed by both the Immigration Act as well as the Refugees Act. South Africa has opened its gates to asylum seekers for over 20 years. The Refugee Reception Offices are the administrative hub and administer asylum seeker interviews as well as process section 22 (asylum seeker) and section 24 (refugee) permits issued in terms of the Refugees Act. It is at these interviews where women disclose their reasons for seeking asylum in South Africa outlining the gruesome violence, torture and rape at the hands of soldiers and rebel soldiers.
Though the women do not bear arms, they also bear the price for war. It is also at these interviews where women are in fear of detailing their abuse in crowded rooms where anyone can hear, with interpreters who could represent the group that tortured her and where they face a violation of their dignity. This process is only made worse by the decision for rejecting their asylum application which includes "no well-founded fear of persecution" and "there is no evidence for your claim".
So what do we do? We call on South Africans to remember all those who have left their homes seeking a safer space and validation of their dignity. We call on individuals to relinquish their fears and prejudices and create a space in their respective communities for those who have left theirs. We call on community leaders to heed the call and lead by example for those whose voices cannot or have not been heard but should be heard. We call on officials to remember that everyone should be treated with dignity.
We call on our officials to treat the asylum seeking process with the respect and dignity it deserves. We call on officials to shorten the queues, cut out the corruption and validate the claims of those who genuinely seek asylum. We call on everyone to realise that victims of violence have different faces and so do the perpetrators. And finally, we call on everyone to look at their individual behaviour, be personally accountable and uphold the values of Ubuntu which encompass dignity and respect.