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Lesotho: The Safe Haven

Lesotho otherwise known as Africa’s “Kingdom in the Sky”, is a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. It was awarded this peculiar title due to its mountainous landscape and high elevation. Due to its regional location, the country’s culture, economy, and politics are intricately linked and dependent on that of neighbouring country South Africa. Their support and involvement during the apartheid as a close ally further links Lesotho to South Africa.

During the era of 1948-94, when South Africa was ruled by a minority British government many were forced to flee the country for fear of oppression. Their lives were put in danger when their justified outrage was expressed. One of such people was Donald Woods, an anti-apartheid activist and journalist living in South Africa. On December 31st, 1978, while managing to evade police surveillance, he hitchhiked 185 miles and swam across a river to, you guessed it, the Lesotho border in safety. Like many others, he found a sanctuary in the county’s capital Maseru. The mass movement incited the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees agency (UNHCR) to build emergency brick housing in the city, thus creating a safe community for the asylum seekers.

Fast-forward to 2002 and the end of the deplorable apartheid regime saw an end also, to this influx of political refugees. The UNHCR formally handed over control of these buildings to the Lesotho government, marking an end to the age of apartheid-refugees, with the then Minister of Home Affairs, Thomas Thabane, calling on Africans “to ponder very seriously about the scourge of refugees.”

What Lesotho did and continues to do differently, regarding refugees and asylum seekers, is their policy of openness and compassion. Then and now, refugees in Lesotho are integrated into their community, not held in camps. Children attend the same schools as nationals and many of the immigrants are self-sufficient, with jobs and hope for the future.

This article is centred around celebrating the welcoming country of Lesotho. Not many countries are as willing to accommodate those who have no other option but to relocate to a strange country. Lesotho does so with open arms, promising protection within its fortress-like mountains. As they did during Apartheid, despite South African threats, they continue to do so today, being home for hundreds of African refugees and a shining example of inclusivity and acceptance.

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