Thursday, September 22, 2011

Canada grants white South African refugee status

A Canadian tribunal's decision to grant a white South African man refugee status has outraged the ruling party in South Africa.

Brandon Huntley, 31, said he could not return to South Africa because he was targeted for muggings and robberies because of his race.

Mr Huntley first went to Canada on a work permit in 2006, but he stayed on illegally and claimed refugee status.

He told the immigration board he was mugged and stabbed in seven attempted robberies in South Africa and that he was called a "white dog" and a "settler" during the attacks.

But he also said that he did not report the robberies to police because he did not trust them.

The Canadian refugee board agreed that there was persecution of whites by blacks in South Africa.

Ishmael Mnisi, a spokesman from South Africa's governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), says the decision itself is racist.

He says South Africa is a constitutional democracy which is fully able to fight crime.

"The African National Congress views the granting by Canada of a refugee status to South African citizen Brandon Huntley on the grounds that Africans would persecute him as racist," he said.

"We find the claim by Huntley to have been attacked seven times by Africans due to his skin colour - without any police intervention - sensational and alarming.

"Canada's reasoning for granting Huntley a refugee status can only serve to perpetuate racism."

But Mr Huntley's lawyer Russell Kaplan says the Canadian Refugee Board's decision is a reflection on South Africa's inability to protect its people from violent crime.

"The South African Government and the security forces could be willing, they really want to protect their citizens, but they can't and this is a really important point," he said.

"As long as a government is unable to protect its citizens, never mind the intent, there's the grounds legally for a refugee claim."

Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper quoted the refugee board member who made the ruling, William Davis, as saying there was convincing proof of the South African Government's inability or unwillingness to protect him.

One South African resident agrees with the ruling.

"I agree with him on that part because South Africa is mostly focusing on black people too much these days," the resident said.

"White people aren't given enough emphasis - basically, they've just paid for their sins for just too long."

But other locals agree with the Government that the ruling is racist.

"I think this guy is sick because if you check, we're living in South Africa, but none of these issues are happening to us, but even though if they are happening to you, how can you just run away from your country?" another resident said.

"I think he should come back and fix these matters."

'Crime is economic, not racial'

Geoffrey Hawker, the president of the African Studies Association and the head of politics at Macquarie University, says he was surprised at the ruling and is sceptical that the man was necessarily attacked on the basis of his skin colour.

"Most refugees tend to be those who are markedly in trouble, under privileged, on the run. I don't think we've had the case of a white South African coming into this situation before," he said.

"Most violence is actually black on black, that's the overwhelming reality. I'm not saying this case couldn't happen but it's not typical of what's happening in the country as a whole.

"Of course there are many rich whites, that's absolutely true, and of course they are the focus of robbery and other crimes - that's really not because they're white, that's because they're rich.

"And there are plenty of rich blacks now also in South Africa and they get targeted in full measure. The robber's after the money, not really after the person because of the colour of their skin.

"Crime reflects the socio-economic condition of the country, rather than its ethnic composition. Unemployment is so high and it tends to be concentrated in the black community and that's where much of the crime is coming from."

Dr Hawker says it is understandable that the ANC would be upset by the ruling.

"One can [understand why], because South Africa's going to get the reputation of the country where the blacks are deliberately setting out to punish the whites for the past injustices that were undoubtedly perpetrated," he said.

"If it were believed, if there were lots of cases like this, then they'd think that the whole reconciliation effort has fallen over and has become a sham and that would actually be a tragic failing for South Africa."