World Refugee Day: 20 June 2018

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Our guest speakers and audience members pose in front of the RESPECT art installation.

The Board commemorated World Refugee Day by profiling a series of real stories and experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in the Western Cape. Our organisation is motivated by the history of our Jewish forefathers, social justice and sense of responsibility towards the world. And so we work to protect the rights of minority groups.

Many Jews came to South Africa from Eastern Europe and Rhodes Island looking for a better life — escaping economic hardship, pogroms, antisemitism, hate. Similarly, Asylum-seekers come to South Africa to escape persecution because they have a well-founded fear for their safety, and the moment they flee their countries they are entitled to international protection and assistance. This means that when they cross our borders, they should be welcomed into our society and given equal opportunities. But we know that the rights of refugees in our country have been comprised, and the evening was a platform to learn about the current situation in the Western Cape.

Vice-Chair, Viv Anstey opened the evening conversation with a heartfelt reflection of the Jewish community’s experience working the Caledon Square Group who were rescued from camping on the streets outside the city police station. Guest speakers included Fwamba Mukole, a previous employee of the Cape Town Refugee Reception office, and now part of the Africa Unite Staff, who shared the bureaucratic and social challenges faced by refugees in South Africa. Telling the story of the Hizmet Movement that started in Turkey, Rabia Inan told her story of the persecution of these people in her home country and how her family is displaced and at risk to return home as they face the violent tyranny of the Turkish government. Tokiti Ali, ended the storytelling session recalling his harrowing experiences as a gay asylum seeker, and how he finally arrived in Cape Town where he has finally found a safe space to live.

The event ended with the screening of the documentary Sanctuary Lost which highlighted the desperate plight of these people living in our country who receive very little support from government.

Despite the serious nature of the event, a safe space of story sharing was created and positive events like this, where we seek understanding are the first steps to welcoming strangers into our society.

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