Xenophobia, deportation laws affect children, women most

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Xenophobia in South Africa, which recently saw thousands of foreigners flee, has hurt local women married to foreign nationals the most.

This problem has also been compounded by deportation laws which do not seem to support foreign male partners who are viewed as people seeking marriages of convenience in order to obtain citizenship.

People have become very mobile across the globe and this has no doubt also brought in a new perspective that most nations never anticipated.

A source in South Africa recently called me and said that the number of local women that have been affected by the sudden departure of their spouses is rather disturbing.

The woman, who is an accountant in Pretoria, said most local women do not have passports and hence could not accompany their spouses to their respective countries.

She noted that this is one aspect which has been overlooked and yet has serious social implications especially for women who were totally dependent on these foreign men.

The accountant added that there was also another angle to this problem where spouses who had left their partners in search of work in South Africa, had also established new families in that country.

“The situation is so messy and I wonder whether there will be family to talk about in the next generations because women and children now live far away from their breadwinners.

“That breadwinner in turn will find a woman to initially just live in with. But as years go by, these people decide to have children. But when instances like xenophobia or deportation happen, these women are left abruptly, creating a serious social problem,” she said in a telephone interview.

South Africa is viewed as a country of opportunities, just like how the United States is regarded.

“A walk into a hairdressing salon will tell you a lot about how both young men and women from foreign countries have become a part of South Africa through marriage or cohabiting.

“The salon I visit every week, has young women from as far as Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe, who are all in some form of relationship with a South African male . . . and even have children; and vice versa.

“So what happens when these men or women are deported? Will they leave their South African children and go back to their countries of origin? This is a matter I have witnessed over the past month and to say it’s sad is an understatement.

“It is emotionally draining because families are breaking up and if xenophobia is not contained, I see a serious social problem of broken families living within our communities,” she said.

On Thursday night, I watched a programme on the SABC News channel where Mama Graca Machel-Mandela, widow of the late Nelson Mandela, the first black president of a liberated South Africa, spoke at length about how the Frontline States had accommodated people from all regions that were still fighting the war of liberation.

She noted how these people lived as part of the large African continent without antagonism against them.

Mama Machel-Mandela said she can relate with Zimbabweans, Zambians, South Africans, Namibians and many others because she lived in some of those nations when her mother country Mozambique was still fighting for its independence.

She says she feels at home in these countries, the Frontline States and continuously mentioned Tanzania and Zambia.

She, however, stressed that these xenophobic attacks were confined to SA townships in Durban and Johannesburg, an indication that there must be anger on the part of locals who feel that their lives have not changed since independence.

They instead see foreign nationals who have “invaded” their business premises and streets selling cigarettes and having good paying jobs to fend for their families elsewhere in Africa.

However, there are so many horrendous stories that have also emanated from the so-called developed world, who claim to uphold human rights issues that have unwittingly deported non-citizens, even those that have lived and worked faithfully for decades.
US Today reports that among the most poignant and compelling stories one hears in deportation cases are those that describe the effects on individuals, families, and, indeed, on entire communities.

The more one hears such stories, the more one is struck by the collateral consequences and their frequently disproportionate harshness.

When judges, politicians, reporters, and scholars write about deportation as a sanction that may deprive a “man and his family of all that makes life worthwhile”, this is what they are thinking of.

Let us begin with family separation and the de facto deportations of US citizen children. It is striking how the protections given by law to the family are absent from many deportation laws.

In general, the US legal system is strongly protective of marriage and family.

However, for many deportees, one of the cruellest aspects of their plight is the complete disregard by the legal system of their family ties.

We cannot deny the fact that the world has become a global village. We also cannot deny that there will be countries that will have an influx of more foreigners who will seek refuge because their economies are better managed.

As we speak right now, thousands of Africans are drowning as they cross the Mediterranean Sea into Italy in search of greener pastures.

But there are greener thorns at these greener pastures that later dry into xenophobia, deportations and, in worst-case scenarios, killings as witnessed in South Africa.

But the fact remains that whenever such things happen, it is women and children that are worst affected.