Anx­ious refugees want out of SA

Stage ‘il­le­gal’ protest at UNHCR of­fices, ac­cuse the govern­ment of in­sti­gat­ing vi­o­lence against them

Cape Argus - - FRONT PAGE - MTHUTHUZEL­I NTSEKU mthuthuzel­[email protected]

HUN­DREDS of refugees and asy­lum seek­ers staged a sit-in and oc­cu­pa­tion of the Cape Town of­fices of the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR), de­mand­ing to be taken out of the coun­try.

Jean Pierre, a se­nior refugee rights ac­tivist at Women and Child Con­cern, said there has been grow­ing anx­i­ety from the refugee com­mu­nity since 2008, but the UNHRC was drag­ging its feet at ad­dress­ing their con­cerns.

He said the UN body was fail­ing its man­date to pro­tect refugees. Pierre ac­cused the govern­ment and po­lit­i­cal fig­ures of in­sti­gat­ing vi­o­lence against for­eign­ers, “while walk­ing free with­out be­ing asked ques­tions”.

“The labour min­ster re­cently said they were go­ing to en­sure that there was no for­eign­ers em­ployed in South Africa. The min­is­ters of po­lice and small busi­ness said they would also make sure there was no for­eigner that owned a spaza shop,” he added.

Pierre also ac­cused Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa of hypocrisy when he told of­fi­cials and busi­ness lead­ers at the G7 sum­mit that he was com­mit­ted to quelling at­tacks on for­eign­ers “whilst thou­sands are still suf­fer­ing on the ground”.

UNHCR spokesper­son Hélène Caux said: “We ac­knowl­edge the is­sues they (refugees) raised.

She said the UNHCR was work­ing closely with the South African author­i­ties to con­tinue pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion through the is­suance of ap­pro­pri­ate iden­tity doc­u­men­ta­tion, fa­cil­i­tat­ing ac­cess to health­care, ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Caux said South Africa was host­ing al­most 268 000 refugees and asy­lum seek­ers, mainly from So­ma­lia, the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of the Congo and Ethiopia. .

Phumla Wil­liams, act­ing GCIS di­rec­tor-gen­eral, said the govern­ment re­it­er­ated “that our coun­try wel­comes all peo­ple who are legally in the coun­try and are con­tribut­ing to its eco­nomic devel­op­ment”.

Wil­liams said the govern­ment re­mained com­mit­ted to build­ing a so­ci­ety based on demo­cratic val­ues of so­cial jus­tice, hu­man dig­nity, non-racial­ism, non-sex­ism and the ad­vance­ment of hu­man rights.

The West­ern Cape Refugee and Mi­grant Fo­rum, which rep­re­sents sev­eral mi­grant-re­lated or­gan­i­sa­tions, in a state­ment dis­tanced it­self from the “il­le­gal” protest.

“We wish to clar­ify that re­set­tle­ment is not the so­lu­tion to the con­cerns raised by the sit-in out­side UNHCR of­fices. Re­set­tle­ment is only for refugees with spe­cific pro­tec­tion needs and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, which is de­ter­mined by UNHCR on a case-by­case ba­sis only. The num­ber of refugees who can be re­set­tled from South Africa by the UNHCR is very small,” it said.

Ac­cord­ing to the fo­rum, there were about 80 000 recog­nised refugees in South Africa.

“We have been in­formed by refugees and asy­lum seek­ers who were in­vited to the il­le­gal sit-in that they were promised re­set­tle­ment should they par­tic­i­pate in this protest. This is sim­ply not true and false ex­pec­ta­tions are be­ing raised,” it said.

| BREN­DAN MAGAAR African News Agency (ANA)

NZOMKHUNDA Sesi, from Bu­rundi, with her son out­side the UNHCR of­fices. Many staged a protest at the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Cape Town of­fices, ac­cus­ing it of fail­ing to pro­tect them from xeno­pho­bia, among other is­sues.

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