Hussein Solomon, a Senior Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Free State, South Africa, discusses some of the underlying causes as well as the strategic trends underlying these developments and their policy implications.
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1. What are the underlying causes of the attacks we have seen in recent days against African and Asian immigrants in South Africa?
This issue of xenophobia is not something new. It has been going on since 1986 in South Africa. It has a lot to do with the worsening economic situation, especially amongst black South Africans and an envy when they see foreigners doing better than they are. It is also a failure on the part of the South African government which, since 1996, has been refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem in South Africa on this issue. With each criminal act committed by a foreigner, too, attitudes amongst South Africans are hardening towards foreigners. This is similar to the wave of Islamophobia in Europe following the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.
2. What are the larger strategic trend lines in patterns of migration and immigration in Africa and between the continent and Europe?
When examining push factors you need to understand that those attempting to enter Europe are largely fleeing conflict zones – Libya and Syria – and therefore can legitimately be viewed as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention with all the protections it affords. This will continue to occur for the foreseeable future since I do not see things getting better in either Syria or Libya in the short-term. Indeed one may well start seeing people coming to Europe from other parts of North Africa – specifically Egypt and Tunisia. In the case of Somalis moving outwards into Kenya and other countries this too has to do with the conflict inside their own country. On the other hand, people moving to South Africa are largely economic migrants seeking job opportunities here at a time when the South African economy is taking strain and where more than 50 percent of South Africa’s youth are unemployed.