'Stop using children of foreigners as hostages'

Human rights groups yesterday told the Western Cape government to stop using the children of foreign nationals as hostages.

The groups made this claim after 50 displaced foreign mothers and their children fled from the authorities to hide in several Cape Town churches.

Last week the last 160 people displaced by the 2008 xenophobic attacks were evicted by the City of Cape Town from the Blue Waters safety camp.

They moved to a patch of land nearby and survive on donations from churches and mosques.

They claim that city officials and the UN High Commission on Refugees told them they would lose their children unless they were reintegrated into the townships.

By yesterday 50 displaced people had taken refuge in a church to hide the children.

"Churches offered to keep mothers and children so that the children do not get taken by force," Congolese Didier Kinlo said.

Kinlo said some displaced people had been loaded on a truck and taken to a local shelter, while others were dropped off in townships where they had friends or relatives. About 100 men, who had no friends or family in Cape Town, had remained behind on the patch of land, Kinlo said.

Braam Hanekom of People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty said some of the displaced people would have to be resettled in a third country, in line with UNHCR principles.

"There are always people who need permanent support. The government cannot expect them to vanish. It must stop using children as hostages," Hanekom said.

Dr Loren Landau of Wits University's Forced Migration Studies Programme said: "While the government might successfully make this 'problem' go away, it delayed having to address continued violence against foreigners and the need to deal humanely with the consequences."

The UNHCR's field office head, Patrick Kawuma Male, told Sowetan that his organisation was not responsible for the refugees once they were living on the street.

City of Cape Town spokesperson Kylie Hatton said the city had not threatened anyone.