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Refugees' despair at deadline

By unknown | Jul 03, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Tebogo Monama

Tebogo Monama

As the August deadline for the reintegration of foreigners displaced by xenophobic violence draws near, clashes between refugees and the government are increasing.

When refugees were sheltered in temporary camps in May, the government promised the arrangement would only be for two months.

Matters came to a head this week as refugees at the Glenanda camp in the south of Johannesburg said they had "lost hope in the state" and chased away people thought to be government employees.

The people at the camp said they were tired of sleeping in the tents, tired of eating bad food and tired of always being scared of being attacked.

They also said reintegration was impossible and they need another solution.

Clement Tshabola, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said: "We only hear talks of reintegration but the government is not being clear. We do not know what is going to happen.

"We are ready to talk to government officials only if they are willing to be clear with us."

Tshabola said reintegration would only be possible if the government would guarantee their safety.

"Most of the foreigners that have already left the camp were illegal. They know that if they stay, they will be sent to Lindela.

"We are legal refugees and have genuine concerns about our safety."

Another refugee, who declined to give his name, said: "It is not for pleasure that we are staying in this camp. We have been living with South Africans and they are cruel.

"We cannot go back there. If the government does not know what to do with us, they must hand us over to the UN. They would know what to do with us."

The refugees said the government should also explore the option of sending them to neighbouring countries.

Gauteng local government spokesman Thabo Masebe said camps would be closed in August whether or not refugees approved this.

"The camps were only temporary. There is no way we can keep them at the camps for more than two months. Another thing that we cannot encourage is the development and setting up of informal settlements for foreigners only."

He said reintegration would be voluntary.

"If the people do not want to be reintegrated, then they will have to make alternative arrangements," said Masebe.


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