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Focus on Refugees

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The shameful xenophobia displayed by South Africans towards their brothers and sisters from the rest of the continent is food for serious thought and action. Despite the wonderful outpouring of assistance from all sectors of the city’s population, the danger of a recurrence of this phenomenon is ever-present, provided remedial measures are instituted. While most of these measures lie within the realm of government responsibilities, viz. poverty alleviation, housing, immigration and job creation, civil society needs to play its part by moving away from the ‘us’ and ‘them’ divide and familiarizing themselves properly with those literally on their doorsteps. By understanding the history, culture and customs of others, a more tolerant, compassionate and integrated society can be developed.

Thus we are embarking on a journey through Africa to equip our readers with the salient features of each country. In addition, we want to empower readers by making an encounter with a refugee more than a handout - for restoring the dignity of a human being is one the highest forms of Ibaadah. We start this series with the country of Somalia, situated in the Horn of Africa and in the grip of civil war. This, according to the United Nations, defines those fleeing that country as genuine refugees or asylum seekers in other countries.

In the first part of this article, we will give readers an overall glimpse of Somalia, its tragic political history, its most famous people, and aspects of its culture, economy and educational system. Thereafter, in the second part, we will list various ways in which local Muslims can assist Somalians, indeed others from the continent as well, to have their dignity restored by getting their documentation in order, finding them a job, speaking common phrases of their language and empowering them with skills which will render them economically independent. Insha-Allah, in subsequent issues, we will be focusing on other countries in Africa thus enabling our readers to gain better insight into the lives of others and contributing towards a more tolerant and compassionate society.


1. Geographic Features

Year round hot climate; mean max 30-40°C
Seasonal monsoon winds
Recurring droughts due to poor rainfall




2. Political History

1961 Gained independence from British and Italy
1969 Military coupe d’etat led by General Said Barre - established dictatorship
1977 Ogaden Desert War won by Ethiopia
1990 Violent overthrow of military dictatorship
1991 Start of Somali Civil War, due to conflicts between clan allegiances.
1992/3 Various UN peace and humanitarian missions
1992 General Ardid’s militia attack UN troops
1995 UN withdraws without government in place; various declarations of regional autonomy
2004 Birth of Transitional Federal Government (TFG) based on Baidoa, but little authority
2006 Civil war between Alliance (ARPCT) and Islamic Courts Union (ICU) led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed
ICU victorious and controls most of Somalia
TFG calls for peacekeeping force
War between ICU and Ethiopian army
2007 ICU defeated finally at Battle of Ras Kamboni by American intervention with Lockheed gunships.


3. Famous Names in Somalia
a)  Sheikh Uways Al-Barawi - martyred in 1920 for non-violent resistance to colonization. Annual pilgrimage by Qadiriyyah sect to his grave.
b) Fatima Jibrell - Goldman Environmental Prize Winner. Director of Horn Relief and Development Organisation. Active campaigner to save Somali environment.
c) Nuruddin Farah - novelist. 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

4. Religion
- All of Somalia’s 9,6 million citizens are Sunni Muslims following the Shaafi Mathhab
- Widespread network of Islamic schools (duqsis) provide basic religious instruction
- 40% of pupils in duqsis are girls
- All women wear purdah

5. Cuisine
Cambuulo  - most popular dish
- well cooked beans (digir) mixed with butter and sugar
- Slow cooked for about 5 hours







1. Assist with documentation
Refugees may be deported if documentation is not in order.
Phone for enquiries :
Department of Home Affairs, Barrack Street, Cape Town - Tel.021 468 4500
Scalabrini Centre, Commercial Street, Cape Town - Tel.021 465 3664
Brief outline of various permits :
a) Section 23 Permit
- obtain at border post when entering RSA
- valid for 14 days only

b) Section 22 Permit
- called asylum seeker temporary permit
- issued by Dept Home Affairs (DHA)
- valid for 3 months
- obtained from Refugee Reception Centre, e.g. Nyanga
- distinguishing features :
i) clause stating permit entitles holder to employment/study
ii) clause stating holder required to be interviewed by Dept of Home Affairs
- if permit lapses, may be repatriated
- employment difficult due to short time as legal status

c) Section 24 permit
- formally recognizes holder as a valid and legal refugee in RSA
- to obtain this permit the refugee must undergo 2 interviews at the DHA where s/he will be questioned about the country of origin’s capability of taking him/her back and his/her motivation for wanting to stay in RSA.
- valid for 2 years
- distinguishing features on permit :
i) reference number - CRT……
ii) case number
iii) country of origin
- if interview unsuccessful, refugee may be ordered to return to country of origin within 30 days.
d)  Refugee ID
- maroon colour book
- 13 digit ID number
- only section 24 permit holder entitled to apply for refugee ID
- some banks willing to open up bank account if in possession of refugee ID

d)  Travel Document
- issued to those with Refugee ID who apply
- issued by DHA on behalf of UNHCR
- blue colour
- enables holder to travel anywhere except country of origin

e) RSA ID Book
- green colour
- refugee in possession of a Section 24 permit for at least 5 years may apply
- must apply to Standing Committee for Refugees who will decide on your eligibility
- if refused, may be ordered to leave RSA within 30 days

f) Drivers Licence
- country of origin’s driver’s licence may be valid in RSA for up to 2 years
- thereafter refugee will have to start from scratch, i.e. learner’s and then driver’s licence

*  No charge for any permits/ID books

2. Speak the Language
Make an effort to memorise a few common phrases of Somali language :

English Somali
1. Hello haaya
2. goodbye is-arg-danbe
3. please fadlan
4. thank you mahad-saniid
5.  How are you? seeta-hay / is-kawaran
6. What’s your name maga-caa
7. How’s your family kawaran qarabadaa
8. How can I help you sedeen kucaawin karaa
9. Do you need money ma-ubaa-hanta-hay la-aag
10. Do you need water ma-ubaa-hanta-hay bee-ya
11. Do you need food ma-ubaa-hanta-hay cuunto

3. Help to find a job
- when someone comes to the door, give them a chore, so that they can obtain money in a dignified way, e.g. wash car, fetch something from shop, etc.
- put their details on an internet site e.g. Gumtree
- put an advert in the paper for them, e.g. community newsletter, Argus, etc.
- direct them to SANZAF who has several skill-building and empowerment courses running.

4. Assist in Network
Direct refugees to following for social gatherings :
- Somali Community Board of the Western Cape
> Abdurahmaan (secretary) - Tel.078 7127138
> Abdi Jiiwdo (chairman) - Tel.082 6955153

-  Office : 43 Kruskal Avenue, Bellville - Somalitown - area between Middestad Mall & Voortrekker Road, Bellville - MASJIDUS SUNNA, 1st Floor, No.15 Durban Rd, BellvilleImam: Sheikh Abdullah Ebraheem - Tel.082 5033323

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