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One by one, I would call out a name from that day’s sign-up sheet. Instantly, I would see some movement and hear some ruffling in the waiting area as an individual walked towards my desk. After requesting and subsequently viewing their documentation identifying them as an asylum seeker, refugee, or South African resident, I would know their nationality. My list kept growing.

  • Angola
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Kenya
  • Nigeria
  • Rwanda
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • Zimbabwe

Above you’ll find a list of countries from which I had clients this week at work. I currently work at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town within the Employment Access Programme which aims to support migrants in applying to jobs, building a professional profile, and learning relevant skills. The Scalabrini Centre’s overarching mission across all departments is to alter people’s perceptions regarding migration so that instead of fearing migrants, they are able to recognize their potential to contribute.

As the child of first-generation immigrants, I have had numerous discussions regarding the importance of migration and the value of a diverse set of perspectives and ideas. So, I can’t say I ever viewed migration as something to be afraid of but I also can’t say I either fully understood it or fully supported it.

As my Myers-Briggs personality test informed me, I am quite extroverted – meaning that I receive energy when I surround myself with others. Although I do recognize the importance of alone time, I couldn’t agree more with the above assessment of myself. I genuinely love to meet new people, learn something about them, and most importantly just offer up a listening ear to those that I am fortunate enough to interact with. Whether it be the 23 year-old asylum seeker from Angola who has a degree in Electrical Engineering and owns a business making flavored paaper bites, or the 57 year-old Sudanese refugee who is currently participating in one of “Reclaim the City’s” occupations, campaigning to stop the displacement of residents in well-located areas by affluent and predominantly white communities. I can easily say that I have learned something from each and every individual I worked with this week.

Having now put faces and real people to the news I have seen about refugees, I have most definitely begun viewing migration as more of an opportunity. In short, it has humanized the very people that governments and media often portray as one of the most dangerous “crises” in the modern world. All I ask from you is that before you make a judgement on someone who might appear outwardly ‘different’ than you or might not come from where you come from, take the time to get to know them, treat them with respect, and most importantly offer up a listening ear because I can guarantee that you will learn something new.