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South Africa to close displaced camps

Latest update : 2008-08-15

South African authorities are closing down camps which housed thousands of victims of xenophobic violence.These foreigners in these camps fear facing more attacks when they return home.

South African authorities will close camps Friday that have housed thousands of foreigners displaced by xenophobic violence, in a move that has drawn concern they could face more attacks when they return home.
  
Authorities last month gave some 3,000 foreigners at six camps in Gauteng province, which includes the economic capital Johannesburg, a deadline of August 15 to leave. Some of them have since then left the camps.
  
The remaining camps in other parts of the country that housed 4,200 others were due to be shut over the following weeks.
  
Humanitarian organisations have argued that the government had not spelled out a plan to reintegrate them into the communities they had fled.
  
Camps were set up after anti-immigrant violence broke out in May, with more than 60 people killed in the attacks.
  
The violence saw South Africans drive foreigners out of townships, mainly in the economic capital Johannesburg, where residents accuse immigrants of taking jobs and blame them for high crime rates.
  
"We have come to the end of temporary sheltering of these displaced people. We cannot keep them for any longer period," said Thabo Masebe, a spokesman for Gauteng province.
  
"The 2,000 immigrants in the six camps are all making arrangements to leave. But we have a contingency plan to assist those who may be stranded on Friday, those who have no place to go.
  
"We won't throw them on the streets."
  
French medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) last week urged South Africa to provide "viable options" to those displaced.
  
"Authorities have not communicated any plans for the reintegration of the displaced, nor has it properly engaged in a dialogue with the camp residents about options for their immediate future," it said in a statement.
  
A Pretoria court on Tuesday strengthened the hand of government officials when it rejected an urgent bid by some humanitarian groups to keep the camps open.
  
They had asked the court to stop the shutdown of temporary camps for victims of the violence until a proper reintegration plan was made clear.
  
The court ruled that government was not violating the rights of the refugees and was under no obligation to come up with a reintegration plan, but the humanitarian groups planned to challenge the government's move at the Constitutional Court.
  
An MSF spokesman told AFP: "The information given to us by the authorities indicates that tomorrow (Friday) will be the final day at the camps.
  
"We do not know what is going to happen tomorrow. We are just waiting to see," he said.
  
A spokeswoman for the UN's refugee agency, Monique Ekoko, said authorities had indicated the camps would be closed at noon.
  
Some in the camps have expressed fear of returning to their former local communities for fear of fresh attacks.
  
But officials have attempted to douse these fears.
  
"At the beginning of the crisis in May, the number of those displaced in Gauteng province was 19,000. Now we are down to only 2,000 in the camps," Masebe said.
  
"The bulk of them have since returned to the communities they left and they are safe living there.
  
"Because these people who returned to their former homes are safe has given us the confidence that the remaining immigrants have nothing to fear when they return. We as a government also care for their safety," he said.

Date created : 2008-08-15

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