/ 28 May 2008

‘Shelters’, not camps, for foreigners

The Department of Home Affairs said on Wednesday it planned to establish shelters for foreigners who have fled xenophobic attacks over the last two weeks.

The BBC website reported on Wednesday that seven ”refugee camps” would be set up.

The holding camps will take up to 70 000 people from increasingly unsanitary conditions at temporary shelters put up around state and municipal buildings and police stations, said the website.

The government decision ”comes despite strong advice from respected international aid agencies”, said the BBC.

Siobhan McCarthy, the chief director of communications at the Department of Home Affairs, denied that ”refugee camps” would be established, and preferred the term ”temporary shelters”.

The move was planned to ”to bring relief to police stations and community halls that are housing foreigners”.

”South Africa does not subscribe to refugee camps, so these shelters can’t be long-term,” McCarthy told the Mail & Guardian Online.

”By separating foreigners from the rest of society, you label them as people who do not belong here. After 1994, our country has been strongly against separating people,” she said.

McCarthy said the government’s decision to set up shelters was to ensure that displaced migrants had access to health services, food and sanitation. These shelters would accommodate up to 2 000 people, which would assist government in ”managing who comes and who goes”.

”The challenges [the conditions at police stations and community halls] are very critical, that’s why we are doing this.”

McCarthy said by Monday night, there were an estimated 17 000 displaced foreigners left in Johannesburg.

Meanwhile, a long term solution to the problem was still being sought by government. McCarthy said there was ”nothing definitive” yet in this regard.

An inter-ministerial tasked team — including home affairs, health, education, safety and security, intelligence and the minister in the presidency — were probing the matter and would devise long term solutions to the problem.

Tents to house between three and five people would be pitched at the shelters, which would be situated on land and empty buildings ”close to the communities where the foreigners fled from”.

The shelters should be up and running by the end of the week, said McCarthy.

Little experience

Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF), said on Wednesday that conditions for people seeking refuge in existing shelters were worsening.

Aid agencies feared the government had little experience of running what were likely to become semi-permanent refugee camps, the BBC, quoting BBC Africa editor Martin Plaut, said, adding that establishing such camps could come back to haunt the country for many years to come.

Fifty-six people have been killed and more than 650 injured in the attacks which started in Alexandra on May 11.

R20m fund

Several institutions, including the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), and South African Airways offered funding totalling more than R20-million to xenophobia victims on Tuesday.

The DBSA and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) said they had set up a R20-million fund to support humanitarian relief.

”The combined funding of R20-million, based on equal contributions from the DBSA and IDC, will be made available primarily through the DBSA’s interaction with municipalities. As part of the allocation, R2-million will be made available to the Red Cross,” they said in a joint statement.

SAA chief executive Khaya Ngqula said the airline would donate about R750 :000 to the Red Cross to be spent on food, blankets, clothes and medical aid for the refugees. Another R250 000 will be given to the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg.

”This donation will provide emergency funding to restore much needed water supplies at the church,” said Ngqula.

The DBSA said it would also make contributions to the South African Human Rights Commission and Commission for Gender Equity to assist in their response to the xenophobic violence.