Give White South African Farmers Refugee Status in Australia, Relatives Plead

Hundreds of people gathered in the Western Australian city of Perth on Wednesday to beg for persecuted white South African farmers to be given humanitarian visas.

Activists have been lobbying for months for white South African farmers to be allowed to live and work in Australia because the government in Pretoria is considering whether to expropriate their farmland without offering compensation. The move is meant to address the country's longstanding racial disparities.

"We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land," Julius Malema, leader of South Africa's radical left Economic Freedom Fighters party, told parliament when he proposed the amendment to the country's constitution. Malema was referring to the descendants of Dutch and German farmers who still own the land of their predecessors. Over two decades after apartheid ended in South Africa, most of the country's profitable farmland is still owned by white farmers.

South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has suggested that he plans to fast-track the transfer of land from white to black owners. The motion to take land from white South African farmers, known as Boers or Afrikaners, still needs to be approved by the South African Parliament's Constitutional Review Committee.

Australia has a large South African community, and many of these expats and immigrants have vocally complained that their relatives are being abused in South Africa. Some have suggested that South Africa's government has sanctioned attacks on white South Africans.

Officials in Australia have said that their country's immigration system is flexible and that a number of options are being considered for the South Africans. Some politicians have floated the idea that Australia should take in around 10,000 South African farmers as refugees.

The treatment of white South African farmers has been a hot-button issue in Australia ever since Minister Peter Dutton, a liberal member of the House of Representatives who controls immigration policy, said in March that the "persecuted" farmers deserve the protection of a "civilized country," a comment that enraged politicians in South Africa. Some observers have also accused Dutton of racism for prioritizing white farmers over other refugees.

Meanwhile, some advocates have also started calling for President Donald Trump or the European Union to allow white South African farmers to move to the U.S. or European countries. Around 12,000 people signed a petition in March calling on Trump to enact emergency measures that would allow white South Africans to come to the U.S. as refugees. A similar petition addressed to European leaders obtained around 17,000 signatures.