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Court halts relocation of foreigners

The Johannesburg High Court has granted an urgent interdict preventing the relocation of foreigners displaced by xenophobic attacks who are being accommodated at the city’s Cleveland and Jeppe police stations, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) said on Monday.

The interim interdict was granted by Justice Kathy Satchwell shortly after 5pm, said LHR advocate Jacob van Garderen. It prevents the relocation of the foreigners to a shelter at Vickers Road, City Deep.

The application was brought by LHR in conjunction with the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) pending an order that would ”ensure the safety of the displaced foreigners”, the LHR said in a statement.

”The media have reported that a number of the attacks on foreign nationals were perpetrated by mobs from various hostels around the city. LHR is concerned that the displaced foreigners will be placed in a position of vulnerability if they are relocated to the Vickers Road shelter as their security will not be guaranteed,” it said.

The LHR said that while it recognised the urgent need for temporary shelters, there were ”serious concerns” about the safety of the temporary shelter at Vickers Road.

”The Vickers Road shelter is being constructed on the site of an old railway station in area of Kaserne that is directly adjacent to a hostel. There were reports that hostel dwellers fired shots at the persons who were tasked with setting up the camp over the weekend,” it said.

”The international standards of refugee camps are not met,” Rachel Cohen, the head of mission for the MSF in South Africa, told the Mail & Guardian Online earlier on Monday.

Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church said: ”The place [the shelter] is really next to the hostels which were probably involved in the xenophobia attacks. We also heard that shots were fired from the hostels. And third, the hostels are not being consulted.”

The foreigners being accommodated at the Cleveland and Jeppestown police stations were to be moved to the Vickers Road shelter on Tuesday.

”On the northern and western side of the shelter lies a mine dump which has been cleared by bulldozers over the past week in order to level the ground,” said the LHR. ”There is no barrier between the Vickers Road shelter and the hostels. All that separates them, at present, is an open road.”

The Gauteng provincial government would not comment on the court order. It would first have to look at the issues that the LHR had raised and which necessitated the interdict, said spokesperson Thabo Masebe.

‘What if they loot our tents again?’

On Sunday some of the refugees, together with UN and government officials, had visited the new shelter, where hundreds of white-and-blue UN High Commissioner for Refugees tents stand on cement slabs under the roof of a railway building in Vickers Road, close to City Deep. It is not far from the M2 highway and next to a dusty field that used to be a mine dump. With bricks, sand and grass spread on the ground, it looks far from ready.

Most refugees to whom the M&G Online spoke on Sunday were also scared of their ”new” hostel neighbours.

Foreign national David Kwizara from Burundi was absolutely clear about it, ”These Zulus are going to kill us,” he said. ”We are willing to go to another place, but we want the UN to guarantee safety and security.”

Thandeka Nyathi, a mother of two from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, was one the refugees living at the Jeppe police station who did not want to move to the shelter, fearing that hostel dwellers might attack her.

”I wake up in the morning and I have to leave the house at 5.30am, so I’m really scared that these people might attack us,” she said. ”If we are going there, I’ll have to find a place for myself. There is no way that I can go near a hostel. It is close to the Zulus; that will mean that we are provoking them. It is safe for the people who are unemployed because they do not have to go anywhere. We have to work because we have kids to look after.”

Matthew Bruno, from Malawi, said he would not move to the new shelter. ”I am not happy about this at all. Going to the area, I think it’s better if we go home. Jeppe is better. What if they loot our tents again?” he asked.

It was also clear from speaking to some hostel dwellers that the refugees probably would not receive a warm welcome.

Mfana Shaba, a taxi driver living at the George Goch hostel, said: ”Only Zulu people live here and if they come to the hostel, they would get beaten up; if they want to see a massacre, they must bring them here. It is not going to work.”

Leonard Kwanyana, who has been living at the hostel for more than 10 years, said: ”If they [the authorities] removed them to the hostel, they will be starting a civil war. These are Zulus and their attitude towards foreigners will never change. They should not move them to the xenophobic hot spot like [this] because blood will flow on the floor.”

An induna (leader) at the hostel, Zanazo Dladla, also questioned the government’s plan relocate the displaced foreigners to the new shelter. ”Why are they bringing them here? People are going to attack them. We need to sit down as the community and the government to decided what should happen,” he said.

On Sunday, about 2 000 people from other locations were already moved to tents at three other sites — Olifantsfontein in Midrand, Corlett Drive Extension in Corlett Gardens and near Rand Airport in Germiston.

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