'We want out of SA'
Nashira Davids | 22 February, 2012 00:31 | Times Live
A South African family is desperate to remain in the US, its members claiming they cannot return home because, as Afrikaners, they will be subject to racial discrimination.
The family's legal representative has been contacting US academics in a bid to get a scholarly opinion that would bolster the asylum application.
The family, described by the law firm as "white Afrikaner farmers", is among dozens of South Africans who, over the past decade, have applied for asylum abroad for a range of reasons, including fear of persecution and violent crime. Some of the applications have been successful.
When contacted for comment, the family's lawyer, Rehim Babaoglu, said the family was too afraid to be identified.
"They were shocked to hear that a reporter was seeking information and they have no comment. They definitely don't want to participate because of privacy and safety concerns," said Babaoglu.
But Professor Mark Behr, of Rhodes College, in Memphis, Tennessee, and Dr Dennis Laumann, of the University of Memphis, have rejected requests that they help the family.
"I am not interested in assisting Afrikaners claiming discrimination in a non-racial, democratic, post-apartheid South Africa," wrote Laumann.
"In my scholarly opinion, there is absolutely no basis for their allegation - whatever evidence they may present."
Behr - who is an award-winning South African author - said he did not believe the law firm would find "any fair-minded scholar" to support the family.
"If the people your firm seeks to represent are in any way victims of racism, it is, sadly, only a racism of their own making, in their own minds.
"Let me add, too, that I speak as a white Afrikaner, from a family of farmers, people who themselves lost farms they owned in Africa, and with my own profound empathy for all people who live off the land in South Africa," replied Behr.
But the family is not alone in attempting to flee post-apartheid South Africa:
- According to latest statistics from the US Department of Homeland Security, about 129 South Africans were granted asylum between 2001 and 2010;
- Immigration New Zealand's general manager for settlement, protection and attraction, Stephen Dunstan, said 48 South Africans had applied for refugee status since 2006. All were rejected; and
- Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees received nine applications for asylum between 2009 and 2011.
Russell Kaplan, the lawyer for South African Brandon Huntley, who is still fighting for refugee status in Canada, said the trend was growing.
"My office is involved in other South African claims - I prefer not to say how many - and I continue to speak to many white South Africans every month who report increasing fear for themselves and their families," Kaplan said.
Gary Eisenberg, who specialises in immigration law, said that, though the topic was complex, he believed that many applicants had a valid case.
"There exist, for instance, entry quotas for whites at universities, and BEE policies restricting the hiring of white candidates in the private sector," said Eisenberg.
"If these measures could be interpreted to be state-sponsored or supported discrimination based on colour or race classification, for example, then a well-founded case of discrimination on those facts could be made in terms of the asylum rules of Western countries, such as the UK, Canada and the US."
But Eisenberg said it would be difficult for someone to apply for asylum on the basis that he felt that the state supported or sponsored the high levels of crime in the country.
Adriana Stuijt, a retired Dutch-born journalist who worked in South Africa, estimates that there are almost 800 South Africans living as refugees around the world.
Stuijt has a blog that monitors the number of refugees and is a member of the Afrikaner Rescue Action Fund, which was started in the Netherlands to help poor Afrikaner communities.
"The latest case, a South African Afrikaans-speaking man of German descent, is in north Germany. He applied three months ago. He fled because of many violent incidents and threats to his life," said Stuijt.
"The latest group of asylum-seekers, from 2011 and 2012, I find are often Afrikaner individuals or families, most of them from farming regions.
"Some are sponsored by US families and religious communities and are still in the asylum process in several states."
AfriForum's deputy CEO, Ernst Roets, said that though the organisation did not encourage South Africans to leave the country, the crisis on the farms has left many with no alternative .
Roets said San Pedro Sula, Honduras, has the highest murder rate in the world - 159 murders per 100000 inhabitants.
"In South Africa, to be a farmer, the murder rate is more than 300 per 100000, according to criminologists," said Roets.
"What encourages people to ask for refugee status is the fact that our government is not taking real steps to address the issue.''
Just this week, a dairy farmer was killed and his wife badly injured in Buffelshoek, North West.
Roets travelled to Geneva in December to address the UN Human Rights Council on the crisis on South African farms. He said the biggest concern was that a minority group was being targeted.
His intention, he said, was to create awareness and put pressure on the government to "take this more seriously".
But Lucy Holborn, research manager at the SA Institute of Race Relations, said statistics did not back up arguments that, by virtue of being a minority group, Afrikaners were more likely to be crime targets.
"The majority of victims of crime in South Africa are black . I often argue that crime is the one thing that cuts across all race groups," said Holborn.
She said there was not sufficient evidence to suggest that crime in farming communities was racially motivated.
Dave Steward, executive director of the FW de Klerk Foundation, said South Africa, despite "some threats" to basic human rights, such as the Protection of State Information Bill, was a long way from being in a situation where people should be seeking asylum.
"The situation on the farms [is] fairly critical but whether that is a result of government activity - often the requirement for political asylum - is another matter."
Yesterday, Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said it was impossible to say how many South Africans made asylum or refugee applications.
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