Somali refugees fear further xenophobic attacks

Somali refugees who were evicted from the Klerksoord refugee camp in Akasia on Monday do not want to be reintegrated into the South African community for fear of further xenophobic violence.

Refugee camps were established in May last year to house thousands of foreign nationals displaced in an outbreak of xenophobic attacks that claimed up to 60 lives. The Klerksoord camp, situated north of Pretoria, was dismantled and services suspended in October last year, but about 400 refugees continued to live there illegally. On Monday, City of Tshwane officials burnt the shacks after removing the people from the camp, indicating that no one would be allowed inside again.

“Our quarrel is with the United Nations,” one of the refugees, Mohammad Ali Hassan (34), told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday. “[They] are misleading the government and everyone about our requests and demands.”

He said the refugees want to “be repatriated to Somalia or to a different country” because they “don’t feel safe in South Africa any more. We don’t want resettlement.” Hassan used to live in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria.

The refugees were reportedly told by Monique Ekoko of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) that they could either go to a shelter in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, for two months, after which they would have to find their own housing, or receive R2 000 per individual or R4 000 per family to find alternative accommodation. The Somalis rejected this arrangement.

On Monday night, the refugees slept outside the Lindela repatriation centre on the West Rand. They were moved to the Riet family guidance centre in Randfontein on Tuesday morning, but the centre’s director, Ivan Kortje, told them that the facility “was full to capacity” with a group of 105 Congolese refugees and it could not accommodate more people.

The Somalis were then moved 30km west of Randfontein; this time to the Carroll Shaw Memorial Centre under the care of chief operations officer Oupa Bila. They will be housed here for the next two months, but will then have to find their own way.

Acting deputy director of Gauteng Immigration Services Joe Swartland, who coordinated the transportation of the refugees, said he hoped a better solution would be found because “two months is too short for any of the refugees to find their own housing”.

He said his department had committed itself to finding a solution soon.

Swartland commented on the absence of UNHCR officials at Randfontein, saying: “They should be helping and attending to the problems here.”

Ekoko of the UNHCR could not be reached for comment.

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