n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Political refugees as victims of prejudice, discrimination and abuse

Volume 17, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Large numbers of migrants enter South Africa both legally and illegally in search of a better life and personal safety and security. Most are economic migrants and a minority are political refugees who had fled their countries because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of culture, religion, political opinions, or the life-threatening conditions of war. The general public usually do not distinguish between economic migrants and political refugees, suspecting that all migrants are involved in crime and responsible for South Africa's high unemployment rate. Xenophobia and discrimination against, and abuse of refugees often result from this. This article reports on a research project undertaken in Pretoria on the victimisation of political refugees. A qualitative research procedure was followed to investigate refugees' experiences during their stay in South Africa. In-depth interviews were conducted with 40 respondents comprising men and women who sought help from a non-government organisation in connection with their personal and language problems as refugees.

All respondents fled from war-torn countries and some had to pay exorbitant prices to human traffickers to reach this country. It was found that most respondents were in one or another way verbally abused and financially exploited by government officials and security personnel on arriving in this country, as well as when they applied for refugee status or a work permit. Cases of physical assault by members of the public were reported and most refugees indicated that they were identified as "foreigners" by their accent, language, physical appearance or dress and called derogatory names.
Two respondents were detained under prison conditions inconsistent with legislation on refugees while waiting for asylum-documentation to be ratified or fetched from home. It was furthermore found that health care personnel were reluctant to attend to the needs of refugees. None of the respondents could find a permanent job because they were foreigners. All respondents expressed their disillusionment with South African society, and felt that they are the targets of discrimination, exploitation and abuse.

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