/ 21 July 2008

Xenophobia refugees risk deportation over ID cards

Residents of a Gauteng camp for refugees from xenophobic violence risk being thrown out of the country if they don’t register for temporary ID cards that allow them another six-month stay in South Africa.

Monday was the deadline for registration of foreign nationals at the Rifle Range Road camp in Glenanda, south of Johannesburg.

The registration process was interrupted last Wednesday by an outbreak of violence when four men who were believed to be security guards were held hostage by the camp’s residents.

On Monday, residents were addressed by United Nations officials, though reporters were not allowed into the camp.

According to Gauteng provincial government spokesperson Thabo Masebe, only 600 of the camp’s 1 850 refugees were registered by the end of day on Sunday.

‘After we spoke to them, another 100 have registered today,” Masebe said on Monday.

About 47 000 people were displaced around the country when anti-foreigner violence broke out about two months ago.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, the process of issuing temporary identification cards to displaced foreigners in other camps was continuing on Monday. Spokesperson Siobhan McCarthy said the only deadline imposed was on the Rifle Range Road shelter.

Many refugees at this camp still refuse to register for the ID cards as they fear that this will invalidate their existing refugee status documents.

However, Masebe said that the process had been explained to the refugees.

‘We explained to them that the temporary cards are valid for six months and that applying for them does not mean that whatever documents they have are invalid. The state has provided shelter for these people; we are trying to know who they are because you can not have someone living in your house whereas you don’t who they are,” he said.

Masebe said that registration is essential and that those who do not register for the temporary ID cards face deportation.

‘These IDs are helping to protect them from being deported but if they don’t have them they will be sent back home, and those who do have asylum-seeking and refugee status will also have to respect this administrational step because if they don’t their refugee status can be taken away.”

Apart from the ID-card process, another deadline is looming: the camp is set to close in mid-August. All refugee camps have to shut down no more than two months after their creation, according to the specifications of the disaster-management measures under which they were created

Loren Landau, from the Forced Migration Studies Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, said that the problems at Rifle Range Road are a result of poor planning and miscommunication.

‘The reason why these people don’t want these permits is because they were not told how they really work and they think that they will be used to send them back to their countries,” he said on Monday, adding that he knows of no law that allows the government to take away the refugee status of someone who has not committed a crime.

‘If the South African government sends these people back to their countries, it will be violating international and domestic law because they will be returning these people to a place of danger, and not even our own Refugees Act can support them [the government] on those grounds,” he said.

The Home Affairs Department’s McCarthy, however, said the roll-out of the ID cards was going smoothly in other parts of the country. She said Gauteng had registered 3 800 people overall by Monday while the Western Cape had registered 2 000.

The department is working with provincial governments and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure the registration process is understood by the displaced people.