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Amisi, B Baruti (2005) Social Capital, Social Networks and refugee migration: An exploration of the livelihood strategies of Durban Congolese refugees. Centre for Civil Society : 1-44.

In 1997, four million refugees (UNHCR, 1997; cited in Siddique, 2001: 284) left their native lands in Africa and relied on the generosity of the international community and receiving countries in order to survive. The consequences of this huge movement of people on both sending and receiving countries, and the livelihood strategies of refugees in their host countries, including South Africa, remains under-researched.

Refugee migration is often a product of a partial or total breakdown of the state vis-àvis provision of basic needs to its people in terms of human rights, socio-economic needs, and political opportunities. This breakdown may appear concurrently with repression by the state trying to re-establish new “order”. It can also result from foreign invasion and the inability of the state to protect individuals who live within particular boundaries (Boswell, 2002: 1-5) such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Refugees from the DRC are the focus of this dissertation. Like other instances of migration, the current refugee movement from the Congo out across the world includes both the movements from the home country to a second country as well as the propensity to move from the second and nearest country to a third country. The first move may be caused by natural disasters and man-made tragedy. The second move often involves migration supporting institutions such as humanitarian agencies, recruitment brokers or individual agents who get involved in these channels for economic gain and sometimes operate illegally. Migration supporting institutions can play quite contradictory roles – sometimes by playing key roles in illegal advice such as human trafficking but also sometimes being quite instrumental in developing and assisting existing social networks that are instrumental in supporting and perpetuating migration flows (Hugo, 2001:34; Hyndman, 2002: 42; Massey et al., 1998: 43; Arango, 2000: 291; Day and White, 2002: 18).

The arrival of refugees in their new host country, such as South Africa, worsens the xenophobic attitudes which may already exist since immigrants and refugees are considered to be a threat to the existing social fabric and, consequently, they are not easily integrated into the host society. To support their position, the proponents of anti-refugee campaigns accuse the latter of problematic behaviour such as bringing and spreading diseases (Pickering, 2001: 169), criminal activities and taking jobs from indigenous residents (van Nierkerk, 1995; Colyn, 1996; Salmon, 1996; Swanepoel, 1996; cited in McDonald et al., 1998: 8). As result, policy-makers tighten immigration and labour policies thereby limiting further migration and excluding the refugee community already in the country from formal employment, social welfare and equal protection.

The refugee community revives and strengthens both the informal and formal social networks to survive. Social networks may spontaneously appear between family members, friends and colleagues as a reaction to social exclusion. They also purposely emerge in organised communities in the form of refugee associations, ethnic organisations, professional ties, students’ or neighbourhood organisations for the common good. Social networks as a form of social capital and thus livelihood strategies “empower refugees” to cope with changes and overcome discrimination. Social networks also target “community life rebuilding and national identity” through diverse functions such as welfare, cultural identity and dignity, and political ideology (Griffiths, 2000: 283, 293)and enable individuals to meet their day-to-day needs through easy access to additional resources. They may take the form of “trading of goods; exchange of useful information in terms of job opportunities, technologies and markets, and mutual help”. They increase outside competitiveness and reduce uncertainty.

This research explores the livelihood strategies pursued by Congolese refugees in Durban. Over the years, South Africa has seen an increase in refugees from many parts of the world, including the DRC. The research will highlight those strategies that define their day-to-day informal livelihoods and the way in which they deal with the problems they confront. An attempt will be made to understand the way in which the state’s attitude to refugees has impacted on the lives of Congolese refugees and to understand the effect of stakeholders’ attitudes on the economic activities of Congolese refugees.

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