Sonke’s Refugee Health and Rights team at UN World Refugee Day

Last month, the global community came together to celebrate the United Nations’ (UN) World Refugee Day and honour those forced to leave their homelands under threat of violence, oppression, and persecution. In Cape Town, South Africa, approximately 200 people from across the globe, including members of Sonke’s Refugee Health and Rights (RHR) team, attended a World Refugee Day event in Philippi hosted by Sophumelela High School.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a majority of refugees in South Africa have fled from the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, political instability and civil war in Somalia, or individual persecution in countries including Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe. Although South Africa’s legislation recognises the basic principles of refugee protection, the country’s current socio-economic environment, coupled with the perpetration of xenophobic sentiment and violence against some foreign nationals, has strained the relationship between refugees and South African citizens.

Despite the numerous difficulties facing refugees, however, many have made exceptional contributions to South African society. The World Refugee Day event in Philippi highlighted these contributions in a celebratory light, incorporating music, song, and dance into the day’s programme.

Following up on this year’s strong efforts to promote unity in the face of xenophobia, the event featured refugee artists from across the African continent, including a Zimbabwean marimba group and a Congolese band. The two troops merged about halfway through the day’s schedule and jubilantly carried out tune after tune of blended rhythms, transforming the programme into a lively celebration of global cultures. Attendees, consisting of both South Africans and foreign nationals, danced down the aisles and with each other; the crowd clapped and cheered as the energy in the auditorium grew. Although the struggles of refugees were never forgotten, neither was their joy – a reminder that even when times are dark, there is still a way to find light.

By Erin Brown