‘Defend refugees’

‘Defend refugees’

MASERU – Clara Shungu, now 27, fled political persecution in Zaire, now Congo, together with her family.
She was only three. The family then sought asylum in Lesotho.
Shungu says leaving the Congo was not an easy decision for her family as it meant plunging into the unknown.
They had no idea how they were to be received in Lesotho.

Shungu says her parents, who were both teachers, sought asylum in Lesotho and stayed for years as refugees. They were later naturalised as Lesotho citizens.
She says she has no intention of going back to the Congo.
Since they fled the Congo in 1992, the family has never gone back to visit.

Having grown up in Lesotho, Shungu speaks perfect Sesotho and little of her own mother tongue.
Blaise Lotele was granted refugee status in 2007 (?).
He says the people of Lesotho have been very welcoming. He says he has not experienced any hostility from Basotho.
“I am happy because we feel at home,” he says.

Lotele however says sometimes they battle against boredom at their residential quarters in Mohalalitoe and would love being visited by Basotho “in order to forge a strong relationship with them”.
Lotele was speaking during a belated World Refugee Day commemorations held in Maseru last week. The day is marked on June 20 every year to celebrate the strength, courage and perseverance of the millions of refugees in the world.

The Commissioner of Refugees in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mohlolo Lerotholi, said this year’s theme obliges them to stand together with refugees in their time of need.
He said Lesotho is home to 108 refugees.
Lethotholi said the majority of the refugees are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo while a few are from Uganda, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.
He said some of the refugees speak languages like French, Portuguese and Swahili among others.

He said after fleeing their country the ministry regards these people as asylum-seekers.
“We only grant them an opportunity to be refugees after examining them,” he said.
Lerotholi said there are procedures to be followed to verify if indeed the asylum seekers qualify to be granted refugee status.

He said the refugees can only go back to their countries if the United Nations has declared that the war or anything the person was running away from is over.
“After five continuous years of being regarded as a refugee, that person qualifies to be naturalised,” he said.
Lerotholi said the refugee could be expelled from the country where he is living if he does not comply or abide by that country’s laws.

The Chief of Mohalalitoe where the refugees are staying, Chief Khoase Kolobe, said he is not happy about the conditions of the place where the refugees are staying.
He said they need proper buildings and constant water supply among other important services.
“This is because we believe good conditions will keep them healthy,” Kolobe said.

Kolobe pleaded with the Minister of Home Affairs, Tsukutlane Au to include refugees’ facilities in the next budget allocation.
He said all the refugees’ places need to be fixed.
He said the refugees and the villagers are living in peace.
“They have never broken any laws ever since they began living in this village,” he said.

Au said they could not celebrate the day on June 20 due to reasons beyond their control.

He said refugees are often forced to flee their countries because of persecution, war or violence.
The minister said a refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.
He said in most cases, the refugees cannot return to their homes for fear that they might be harmed.

Au said war and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are some of the leading factors forcing refugees to flee their countries.
“Some of them flee because the way of living in the country is hard,” he said.
Au urged Basotho to treat the refugees with respect and never consider them as burdens.

He said this is because one day Basotho could find themselves in the same situation as the refugees.
“We will have to make an investment so that when that time comes, we will be treated well,” he said.
Au said some of them even have rare skills that “we do not have as a country”.
He said some of them are doctors and the nation benefits from their skills.

‘Makhotso Rakotsoane

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