Students say missing Omicron Express trains are their only option

With airports in South Africa and Zimbabwe shut down due to strikes over pay and travel restrictions across much of southern Africa, the question remains: where do students who are barred from boarding from boarding on Omicron Express trains go?

Already, students have reached out on social media asking for advice, as many international students are not permitted to travel in southern Africa because their names correspond to deportees. Activists said this is a “racist exploitation of the international community” and a lack of attention to human rights.

South Africa, a nation of 52 million people, is home to around 24 million international students, according to 2017 data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Some 7 percent of the population is either an international student or a home-grown student, with SA’s education system catering to students from over 200 different countries.

South Africa’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) refers to “non-citizens” as “deportees”. This refers to people who are registered in foreign territories or have pending deportation orders from countries such as the United States, UK, Australia, and Canada. Being barred from boarding the train would be the latest entry for a student’s name on this record.

According to Amnesty International’s South Africa-based researcher Agnes Toenies, student numbers are highest in South Africa because many of the policies surrounding travel into and out of the country are deeply intertwined with racism.

“I’ve heard stories that, for example, when an employer is required to hire somebody, if the person has a name that comes from a migrant background, then they are precluded from being hired, because the employer thinks it might be a trouble candidate,” she told the BBC.

Members of the South African’s Student Congress have also requested the International Monetary Fund grant them more information on the restriction.

“There’s no place for racism or xenophobia,” Sahira Yousefzai, the treasurer of the student congress, told the African News Agency in an interview. “The number of students facing travel restrictions is alarming and we are going to make it our top priority to seek an understanding of what this travel restriction is.”

The BBC reported that, so far, only Soweto-based protest group the ANC Youth League has come out in support of the ban.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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