Rakuoane evokes Moshoeshoe legacy on refugee day
Lesotho on Friday held belated World Refugee Day and African Refugee Day commemorations in Maseru under the theme ‘With Courage Let Us All Combine’.
The Day seeks to honour the courage, resilience and determination of those who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence, and has been observed globally on 20 June since 2001 under the auspices of the United Nations (UN).
Home Affairs minister Lekhetho Rakuoane was among the speakers during Friday’s event held at Avani Maseru Hotel and stressed Lesotho’s position on genuine asylum-seekers by narrating the history of Basotho.
“We are gathered here today to salute the resilient spirit, courage and hope of the world’s refugees.
“From the onset, let me point out that Lesotho, as a country, is well-vested with the notion of refugees. The founder of our nation, King Moshoeshoe I, who is recognised universally as a nation-builder, distinguished himself by moulding together into one nation, elements of various tribes who sought his protection after being ravaged by tribal wars of his time. The Basotho nation of today is, itself therefore, a nation of refugees,” Advocate Rakuoane said.
“In the true tradition of King Moshoeshoe I, Lesotho was, even before acceding to independence in 196, host to refugees from different countries of southern Africa. This trend took higher forms as the liberation struggles in South Africa, Namibia, Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, and Angola, escalated and resulted in the fleeing of more and more people who took refuge in Lesotho.
“This became more so in the wake of the 1976 Soweto uprisings in South Africa which resulted in many young people settling in Lesotho as refugees to escape persecution and to seek study opportunities. All these people from southern Africa were warmly welcomed in our homes and learning institutions, whilst others were also given employment opportunities without being confined to refugee camps.”
The minister further noted Lesotho continues to play host to refugees as a show of commitment to the global cause of giving refuge to those in need.
“May I point out that among the small population of refugees resident in this country, a number of them are working in the remote regions of our country as nurses, teachers and businesspeople.
“This is testimony that migration is indeed development, whether forced or voluntary…Our development studies show that globally, refugees play a considerable development role in host countries.
“In this sense, refugees have also given our communities hope by providing solutions to our various development challenges. That is why the government of the Kingdom Lesotho has taken a position that migration is not a problem to be solved anymore, but a reality that should be managed as epitomised by her policy documents,” said Minister Rakuoane.
However, Advocate Rakuoane urged asylum-seekers to respect the laws of the country and refrain from criminal activities.
“In Lesotho, we appreciate that refugees and asylum-seekers are not criminals, but people who fled violence and/or persecution and deserve protection and assistance, not suspicion or ridicule.”
The minister also noted the many challenges faced by refugees worldwide.
“There are challenges that face refugees and I wish to single out those affecting children and women. This category of persons is particularly vulnerable and needs very keen international protection strategies that address needs and aspirations that are specific to them. In some countries, HIV/AIDS transmission in the camps, sexual abuse by people in authority and the recruitment of child-soldiers are examples of the appalling situation refugee-populations grapple with.
“…We also continue to witness more complex movements in recent years of mixed migratory flows caused by a number of factors. An example is the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa which pose a big challenge to our country and the region as a whole. This therefore, calls for countries to continue identifying those in need of international protection.
“The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: ‘Refugees are people like anyone else, like you and me. They led ordinary lives before becoming displaced and their biggest dream is to be able to live normally again. On this World Refugee Day, let us recall our common humanity, celebrate tolerance and diversity and open our hearts to refugees everywhere”.
On his part, the Acting UN Resident Coordinator, Wilfred Nkhoma, urged nations to be safe havens for refugees.
Dr Nkhoma said: “At times like these, it is essential that governments and societies around the world , including our own Kingdom of Lesotho, recommit to providing refuge and safety to those who have lost everything to conflict or persecution.
“With 86 percent of all refugees living in developing world, and with the humanitarian response system increasingly getting over-stretched, international solidarity and burden-sharing are crucial in meeting the needs of displaced communities, as well as their hosts.”
Meanwhile, Advocate Rakuaone also noted that two weeks ago, SADC Home Affairs ministers, signed an Action Plan aimed at “addressing Mixed and Irregular Migration”.
“If you check how migration happens especially from East Africa, South Africa and ultimately Lesotho are the destinations. The other countries are just transit states. There is another option of people heading to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
“That is why we have to manage the process that mainly affects the most vulnerable being women and children through this Action Plan.”