Murderous welcome for refugees

At least five foreigners have been killed and seven injured since the Western Cape provincial government began reintegrating victims of xenophobic attacks into their former communities.

On Tuesday Somali-born Noor Alie (27), who had been housed at the notorious Soetwater refugee camp, returned to Grabouw, where he was shot and killed—the fifth casualty in a reintegration process provincial mediators are adamant is “successful”.

Other killings have been recorded over the past month in Retreat, Phillippi and Khayelitsha.

In addition, the Mail & Guardian has learned that criminals are forcing refugees returning to Lower Crossroads and Nyanga to pay protection money in a racket that has been running for more than a month.

Currently about 6 000 foreigners are still living in Cape Town’s refugee camps, which the province hopes to close by September 3.

Last week, as newly appointed Western Cape Premier Lynne Brown attended a two-hour meeting with about 60 foreign refugees, Treatment Action Campaign chairperson Zackie Achmat announced that legal steps would be taken against the province and the city because of the “deteriorating living conditions” in camps.

“It’s unacceptable for the government to fold its arms when people are living in such appalling conditions, without running water and other basic facilities.”

Refugees who spoke to the M&G said that the reintegration is “disastrous” and amounts to “forcing them into their graves”.

Provincial officials insist they are in no danger from residents. “Those refugees killed when they went back into the communities were not killed by community members, but by criminals,” Galiep Galant, head of the provincial mediators, said at the premier’s meeting this week.

The head of the Western Cape Provincial Disaster Management Centre, Hildegarde Fast, said: “If people refuse to be reintegrated we can’t evict them and close the camps, but we believe reintegration will work.”

This week the M&G spoke to Phillip Kisimba (not his real name), a Congolese who fled Lower Crossroads during the xenophobic attacks and lived in various places in Cape Town for about six weeks before returning to Crossroads.

Kisimba said criminals were now forcing him to pay them protection money, settle their shebeen bills and buy their stolen goods.

“I went back because these mediators came from premier [Ebrahim] Rasool’s office and told us that the communities are now safe because they’ve spoken to the people. But I will be killed here if I don’t pay these people,” Kisimba said.

The M&G learned last week that the practice was widespread, with Burundians and Tanzanians also expected to secure their residence rights by paying local criminals up to R1 500 a month in food and alcohol.

In addition, a Cape Town newspaper recently reported that taxi bosses belonging to the South African Civic Organisation (Sanco) and members of Rasool’s office attended a meeting in Du Noon township at which a Sanco leader proposed that foreigners pay a R13 000 “protection fee” and a monthly R200 fee for reintegration into communities.

The paper quoted a Sanco official as saying that Somalian refugees who wanted to reopen businesses should contribute to the upkeep of old-age homes, buy school uniforms and pay school fees for orphaned and vulnerable children.

Kisimba (25) earns R440 a week as an artisan. On his return to Nyanga he was accosted by two men who told him to accompany them to a shebeen. “They ordered some quarts and ate and drank. I had to pay the bill and then they said I’m welcome.

“They said I must be kind and nice to them and then I can stay. ‘Otherwise you must fuck off kwerekwere [foreigner],’ they said. I pay about R250 every weekend for my safety.”

Kisimba said returning refugees were also forced to buy stolen cellphones, radios, TVs and DVD players, but could not go to the police “because so many policemen are also criminal”.

Boyisile Mafilika, ANC councillor for Lower Crossroads and Thabo Mbeki informal settlement, said he was unaware that gangs were subjecting foreigners to protection rackets.

But he added: “Some Nigerians who are criminals didn’t have to flee when the xenophobic attacks started. Foreigners already doing business with criminals weren’t touched.”

Meanwhile in Johannesburg on Monday, 600 displaced foreigners were forcibly removed by police from the roadside extra next to the Lindela repatriation centre where they had been living for six days. Women and children were taken to the Riet Family Guidance Centre and 207 men were detained at the Krugersdorp police station. They were charged with contravening the Road Traffic Act and under the Criminal Procedure Act.

On Wednesday the men made a brief appearance in the Krugersdorp Magistrate Court where the case was remanded until August 6.

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