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Letters from the Southern Man
Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork, its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people.
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Posted by Iain on Feb. 10, 2012, 11:29 a.m. in Immigration
Coming this week to you from Johannesburg, South Africa.
I remember a few years ago a client of mine who had lived in New Zealand for a few months and tasted his new life shared with me what he thought was the single greatest difference between South Africa and New Zealand.
He said that New Zealand had no problem it could not solve. South Africa’s problems are so big it never will.
You can argue that was an unreasonably pessimistic view of his old home given some of the progress that has been made here since 1994 and perhaps he gave New Zealand more credit than it deserves. I suspect however he was quite right. On both fronts.
Now that I am back in South Africa for my first trip of the year I am reminded of those comments.
One aspect where the South African Government has more on its plate than it can cope with is refugees and often illegal economic migrants from the rest of Africa. This country is being overwhelmed by desperate people seeking a better life. Many of them ‘illegal’, many using asylum as a way of buying time or simply melting into the back streets of the townships and squatter settlements. Many of them with a well justified fear of persecution if forced to return from whence they came.
People who visit our website and express an interest in attending our migration seminars here are often not South African citizens but refugees and economic migrants from other parts of Africa – in particular Congolese, Zimbabwean and Nigerians. Most we decline an invitation to attend simply because they are not going to qualify for residence of New Zealand no matter how much we would like to help them. Of those we do have individual consultations with to assess their eligibility to join us in New Zealand, the greatest impediment to success is variable English, invariably little capital and my Government’s reluctance to issue them Visitor Visas to come to New Zealand to secure those all important highly skilled jobs that allow them to qualify for Residence Visas.
I have to say while that probably comes as a relief to many of the South Africans that come to my seminars (more than one this week has made a comment that I probably shouldn’t repeat here but along the lines of ‘If we wanted to continue living in Africa we wouldn’t be talking to you…..), I feel a deep sadness that I cannot assist so many of these people who are looking for nothing more than all my other clients.
Increasingly those that have gained asylum in South Africa or are here unlawfully (hundreds of thousands if not millions) are the victims of crime. Given the unemployment rate of this country is almost 25%, many of these arrivals are being targeted by local criminals (read, often just as desperate unemployed locals) knowing that their victims will never go to the police. And I am seeing more of these people every time I consult in South Africa.
In Cape Town alone 8,000 illegal foreigners arrive each month to settle and try and carve out some sort of life which principally revolves around putting food on what passes for a table, feeding a family or remitting funds to the home country and staying warm and dry in housing farmers in my country would keep a few chickens in. Their needs and wants are not complicated. As tough as their lives are here (and believe me New Zealanders would be shocked at how millions of people live in this hemisphere), for the most part they are at least not in a war zone or tribal conflict which is so often what they have left.
But is still a case of frying pans and fire for a great many.
A measure of the desperation of these people and how all things in life are relative; I was reading in the newspaper this morning of eight Ethiopians who walked to South Africa to seek asylum. Walked! That would be like walking from Auckland to Singapore (about nine hours by plane). Or LA to New York and back again.
Before they could file their asylum claim they were arrested and faced deportation. Under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees countries are not allowed to deport asylum seekers unless and until their application is resolved. The Supreme Court here ruled in their favour.
That decision upset the local equivalent of our Immigration Department and they tried to file an appeal. They were sent packing (as they should be).
I can see their point however – this country is being flooded with hundreds of thousands of people. South Africa cannot feed, clothe, employ, offer medical treatment, pensions or much in the way of a dignified life to the majority of it’s own citizenry, yet every year they are expected to take in hundreds of thousands of people desperate for something better. ‘Xenophobic’ attacks here are constant, brutal and little mercy is often shown to the victims and the migrant communities are running scared.
I can only imagine what the lives most of these people left behind can be like because their lives here appear to be pretty dismal and a constant struggle to survive. They are targeted by local criminals and a minority of them have themselves turned to crime. They are more or less despised (or ignored) by most South Africans of all races and backgrounds. The police here have always been stretched. South Africa breeds enough of its own criminals to not want to be bothered by imported ones.
I don’t see countries like my own standing up and saying – we will take more. New Zealand will accept a maximum (maximum!!) of 750 UN sponsored refugees a year. And before anyone says ‘Thank God’ you should talk to a few of these people. It is heartbreaking what so many of them have left, what they have here and what they endure.
We could easily take several thousand but I can hear the outcry from my fellow New Zealanders – what about our miserable lives? Look after us first!! They wouldn’t know misery if it were a brick hitting them between the eyes.
As I battle the paranoia and unhelpfulness of my own Immigration Department on a daily basis I can only imagine their collective relief that they are not the South African Immigration Department. At least New Zealand is surrounded by an awful lot of ocean which means we don’t have the refugee ’problem’ that so many other countries, like this one, have as a consequence. You only have to look across the Tasman at Australia to see how ‘lucky’ we are.
Close enough to be reached by sea the Aussies have a real ‘problem’ and one might argue a responsibility they abrogate to the very best of their ability. They largely try and deal with the issue by building prisons in deserts and dumping asylum seekers in them until they can process (and generally decline) them and send them packing. But even for them they have a reasonable amount of ‘protection’ thanks to the amount of sea between them and the demand for a safer and better life.
I reflect at such times on New Zealand. On our ‘problems’ like our obesity epidemic. Listening to my fellow (fat) New Zealanders who whinge and moan and demand this and demand that and complain about their lives I can only shake my head at their ungratefulness at the lives and opportunities they have. We don’t really have ‘poor’ people – not African poor. No one in New Zealand does not have access to food, housing and medical care. If people want to work they can (even if it means moving from their home town to find work – maybe you have to live in New Zealand and appreciate our generous welfare system to understand that comment).
I appreciate (for many of you South Africans reading this) that many nations in Africa have arguably brought much of this misery on themselves and there is ample evidence to support that view. However until, among other things, we have a global trading system that allows all these poorer countries equal access to our markets they will continue to struggle. Until they can stop worrying about where their next meal is coming from they will continue to walk the length of continents hoping for something better.
I for one would love to be able to offer some of these people visas for New Zealand if my Government allowed me. What wonderful New Zealanders they would make – grateful for the boundless opportunities in New Zealand. Grateful for a roof over their heads. Grateful for a full belly. Grateful for tax payer funded education and health for their children. Grateful for a chance to live with dignity. All of which I know they would happily contribute to through their taxes.
Until there is a significant change in the attitude of those of us in the west and an acceptance the world has enough food and resources to go around if only we opened our markets up to all comers and perhaps consumed a little less, then countries like South Africa will continue to be a magnet for this continent’s impoverished, displaced and desperate. And carry the burden of the refugee ‘problem’.
One far too large and expensive in economic and social terms to cope with.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
I couldn't agree more. As coloured South Africans living in NZ for the past 6 months, my husband and I watch the evening news for its entertainment value. We appreciate this country but living here gives you no concept of real life, you cannot imagine the horrors of what people are living with every day elsewhere in the world. I spent a short while teaching English to Congolese refugees in SA and they were all desperate to learn because they knew that education was their way out. They were graduates who had survived the journey to SA and were working as gardeners if they were lucky. And they were grateful.
Thank you so much for your blogs,Ian. I always find them informative, or entertaining, or as in this case, thought provoking. I am one of the blessed ones who could receive a NZ work visa with a residency application pending, without ever speaking to a recruiter or an agent. Even so, I really appreciate your 'ministry' in helping people to find hope for a better life.
You're right! Those asylum seekers can contribute more to the economy because they are grateful enough to live in this world w/out hunger and suppression. Some people can't even realize how fortunate they are having all they've got but still complaining.
I'm with you there. My wife and I enjoy the evening... I hesitate to call it 'news', in New Zealand. We have a good laugh at whatever passes for the current issue of the day.
I must admit though, I don't miss watching the South African news one little bit.
Excellent post. You're right, Kiwi's really have no idea about the true horror that the third world can be. It's a very sad thing.
I find it ironic that you wish to "help" those very people whose arrival in SA provides you with your livelihood, viz. your middle class, educated clients who wish to get as far away from the crime, grime, corruption and general mayhem in SA as possible.
"What wonderful New Zealanders they would make..." Are you completely deluded? Take a walk (if you dare) through the lovely foreign enclaves of Berea, Rocky St and Hillbrow in Johannesburg and you will quickly be disavowed of your misplaced sentimentality in respect of foreigners.
Why do you think your clients (and the many 1000s attending your seminars) are so focused on getting away from Africa?
I think you should evaluate whether your view isn't a little too far divorced from reality. These immigrants have provided little or no benefit to South Africa and many, many detriments, including hijackings, cash in transit heists, prostitution, human trafficking, drug dealing and many more.
Replies to this comment
Iain, thanks for your synopsis of a situation in South Africa that so few people abroad understand. The long common land border with the rest of Africa is one of the biggest threats to the economy and stability and yet our proximity to the vast African market is also one of our biggest strengths. My family are middle class economic 'refugees'from South Africa living and working in Dubai because we cannot find suitable employment at home in South Africa. This is a great source of sadness for us because we would love to go home despite the problems you mention. Recently, we were fortunate to visit New Zealand for a wonderful holiday. The local TV news and newspapers were a great source of amusement to us mainly because they were so downright boring with nothing more to report than complaints over city rates, food prices and the government. Also other gems like an iPad was stolen from a school boy and a car was stolen in Auckland!!! In South Africa we had 3 cars stolen in our family alone. Fortunately 2 of them were recovered by the police within hours because they were fitted with GPS tracking as most cars in SA are now. The third car was returned by the thief to the same parking space 3 days later - obviously not to his liking or on his spare parts order list! My point here is that NZ is a lovely country with complaining people who don't know how lucky they are to be surrounded by a vast expanse of ocean and a nanny government as protection from the big bad world out there!
Since my visit to NZ in October, I can't say I like it less, in fact it was an incentive to learn more about the reality of New Zealand i.e. its history, the current political and social situation. The local news broadcasts are somewhat limited and this lends a surreal feel to the place. Perhaps NZ needs more professional journalists to strengthen its media capability. I'm glad you talked about refugees and NZ's intake. New Zealand still needs to keep up with the rest of the world. New Zealanders have a lot to be grateful for, yet, perhaps the hard questions - why unemployment rates remain as they are and why the economy cannot do better, still deserve an answer. Migrants are a good thing for a country, as many instances have proven, but migration is a two way process. Migrants and the society they enter have to adjust to each other. There must be some leeway for this as the inability to adjust by either party will create endless misunderstanding and intolerance amongst local and migrant communities. There must be some space to dispel misunderstandings before allowing unsolved problems to plague the country as more migrants settle in New Zealand, bringing with them different ideas of how they should inter-relate with the local population, and other migrants already settled there. On my last visit, some progress seemed to be made, in that, Asian migrants were moving out of big cities like Auckland to live in smaller urban areas like New Plymouth and setting up businesses and services. When I was in Taranaki in 2006, there was no place that sold Asian food stuffs but I was glad to know on my last visit that there is a reasonably large Asian shop there and a number of Asian restaurants, besides Kiwi restaurants offering traditional Kiwi fare. No doubt, there are fears but there are also rewards in opening the gates to migrants. Your compassion for those who struggle for a better life is certainly admirable, even if what you can do is limited.
Agreed with much of what you said Iain. Although at times I deperately miss family, friends, and a beautiful country - I myself am grateful on a daily basis to have the privilege of being here. And contribute fairly significantly to my New Zealand community. How much more grateful would others be that are desperate for a better life.
One of the greatest lessons I learnt from my mom was that poverty does not necessarily breed criminality. My family has been very poor at times, and some of the poorest people I have had the honour of knowing would not even THINK of stealing anything. For those that turn to crime, and those criminals I have had the misfortune to cross paths with, I have seen a sense of entitlement rather than deperate poverty. And I don't mean the thieves I've run across that steal food - no, I mean those that hurt, maim, intimidate, hate, and use (in the case of a hub of Nigerians that run drug and child trafficking in Jhb, might have changed now), and it killed something inside me.
And no, New Zealanders have no concept of poverty and the true meaning of opening borders (or being the only possible option for a better life) as South Africa is for so many of the war-torn and genocide-driven dispossessed
So, I may have told some Kiwis to stop whining (oops, my bad, I don't have much of a filter) and I have to remind myself that I knew I would need to adjust to being in a nanny state (after all, I'm an adult that's perfectly capable of making my own decisions).... but yea, it's good to be here and desperately sad for those struggling to make ends meet and trying to maintain any shred of positivity in dire circumstances
Hi Ian. We look forward to your newsletters. Crime and violence is on the increase in South Africa. Corruption is revealed weekly. The cost of living keeps gong up. The hope of a safer and fulfilling life in New Zealand in the near future for our family is uplifting.