Deputy Chief of Mission, Catherine Hill-Herndon spoke about U.S. support for refugee and migrant programs in South Africa and globally, and heard from migrants and refugees about the challenges they face.
The event began with the launch of a Humanitarian Contact Group for Refugee and Migration Affairs, intended to improve humanitarian coordination for refugee and migrant programs in South Africa. This meeting was followed by a discussion on building partnerships between traditional human rights activists in South Africa and refugee rights activists with the intention of strengthening both movements.
In her remarks, Deputy Chief of Mission, Ms. Catherine Hill-Herndon, explained “The United States has a special affinity for people fleeing oppression or seeking economic opportunity,” adding “Immigrants make our country stronger, and are widely celebrated for their contributions to our economy, culture and society.” She further acknowledged the difficult circumstances refugees and migrants faced in South Africa, not just in the past six months, but since 2008 when a wave of violence swept through migrant communities. “This year Emmanuel Sithole made news, as did fellow Mozambican Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave in 2008, but hundreds of other foreigners die every year in silence,” she said.
In the subsequent discussion, refugee and migrant representatives explained the challenges faced by migrants and refugees in South Africa, and the additional challenges faced by leaders in those communities who advocate publicly on behalf of refugee and migrant rights. Members of the traditional civil society and human rights community in South Africa expressed solidarity with the refugees and migrants and talked of further cooperation between the two groups.
The United States has long supported the international asylum system and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), providing approximately 20% of UNHCR’s budget in Southern Africa and over $700,000 in direct support to Non-Governmental Organizations working in South Africa last year. The United States also welcomes thousands of refugees as permanent residents every year, including 70,000 resettled refugees annually.