On the 11th of June 2015, Africa Unite peer educators and interns held a human rights information session with Somali community at the Somali Association of South Africa offices in Bellville, Cape Town. The main purpose of this workshop was to raise awareness of human rights, refugee’s rights and to come up with solutions on how to address some of the challenges which the Somali refugees continue to face in Cape Town.
The Africa Unite team began the discussion by asking what the audience knows about human rights. The conclusion seemed to be that human rights entail mutual respect, regardless of religion; everyone has the same rights and those rights should not be violated. Anta, an Africa Unite peer educator and intern, introduced the topic of political, civil, and economic rights. The group engaged in a discussion of rights. She explained that although refugees and asylum seekers do not have political rights i.e. the right to vote and hold public offices, they still have basic human rights to fair treatment.
Africa Unite intern, Alain, followed with a discussion on civil rights and explained that these are the rights of every person in the country which include equality, privacy, and freedom. Anouk a peer educator and intern at Africa Unite then focused on social-economic rights. The audience was moved by such a discussion and began to raise issues on which they felt their rights were being violated. For example, they mentioned that the rights of the Somali women are being violated when they are given contraceptive pills against their will and are told that they cannot have more children. This violates their privacy and freedom. While basic rights include rights that are entitled (the right to life, basic health care, basic education, etc.), access rights are rights that the government must ensure even though it is not obligated to fulfill these rights (e.g., access to adequate housing and higher education). A discussion about the issues that the Somali community has experienced followed. A number of issues were raised that the audience felt necessary to pursue further.
The issues included:
• Most of their kids are denied access to primary education as they are often told the schools are full.
• In most public hospitals and clinics, refugees and foreign nationals patients are not given enough attention and in some cases denied access to healthcare.
• Their respect and dignity is constantly abused as they cannot go anywhere without facing discrimination.
• Language is also often used as a barrier to prevent Somalian individuals from getting necessary services, especially in the healthcare system where they are denied service if they have a name that looks foreign.
Local South African Peer educators Emmanuel ended the workshop with a discussion on refugee’s rights and vulnerable people in our communities. The group identified refugees, children and women often experience human rights violation. The community was frustrated and felt that they have no rights since they are so frequently violated. The group questioned the purpose of awareness workshops and concluded that actually taking action is necessary to create change.
Africa Unite peer educators urged the Somali group to engage in more social cohesion activities with their local counterparts and avoid isolating themselves. They also encouraged the Somali community to bring forward cases of human rights violation in order for Africa Unite and other stakeholders to follow up and hold the perpetrators accountable of their actions.
After the session the Somali leadership thanked Africa Unite and acknowledged that there are no easy answers or solutions to the challenges that were discussed, however Africa Unite is doing a great job in educating both the locals and refugees on issues of human rights and social cohesion.
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