Thirty-six-year-old Somali refugee, Adan Ibrahim Ali, smiles warmly as Noxolo Mfanyana walks into the warehouse he manages. She is one of several field advocate
with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s partner organization, the Eastern Cape Refugee Centre (ECRC), responsible for promoting social cohesion between refugees and their South African hosts in over 10 communities across the Eastern Cape Province.
She is on her weekly visit to Korsten, a suburb populated by Somali and Ethiopian refugees. Korsten is one of the locations where refugees have settled and established flourishing businesses, servicing residents across a vast radius in Port Elizabeth.
Since his arrival in South Africa in late 2009, Ali’s hard work and business acumen have helped put the warehouse on sound footing, generating a steady profit and a healthy return on his investment in the enterprise. Unfortunately, it had also made him the easy target of criminals, hiding in the shadows, impatiently waiting to part him from his earnings. “It has always been an open secret that Somali and Ethiopian refugees, in particular, are the criminals’ ATM,” he chuckles wryly.
Ali attributes this level of harassment to their inability to open bank accounts which over the years, has made them vulnerable to victimization and crime. As a result, many refugees have suffered life-altering injuries, loss of livelihoods, or even loss of life. Similarly, South Africa’s banking institutions, hit by wave after wave of fraudulent activities viewed refugees and other foreign nationals with suspicion and mistrust, despite government-issued permits and identity documents regularizing their status in the country