Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 10:44 GMT

South Africa: Constitutional Court may decide fate of safety camps

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 17 September 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), South Africa: Constitutional Court may decide fate of safety camps, 17 September 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48d203d2c.html [accessed 11 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

JOHANNESBURG, 17 September 2008 (IRIN) - An interim order by South Africa's Constitutional Court could keep temporary shelters open for the foreigners displaced by xenophobic violence earlier this year - or it could leave more than 4,000 camp residents out on the street.

Civil society has called for the camps to remain open until government publishes a detailed reintegration plan, and is hoping an interim court order will delay closure, set for the beginning of October by Gauteng provincial government.

More than 50 people died and about 17,000 foreigners were displaced during the xenophobic violence that first erupted on 22 May in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra.

A court battle has unfolded since the Gauteng provincial government announced in late July that camps would close by 15 August, prompting a number of civil society groups to take legal action.

The order, expected to be handed down later this week following the court's decision on 16 September to postpone the case, should spell out not only when the camps will close, but also the conditions camp residents can expect in the meantime, said Jonathan Klaaren, professor of law at the University of the Witwatersrand, who has been working on the case.

Progress towards a reintegration plan continues to be frustrating. "There's been no opportunity for consultation," said Duncan Breen, advocacy officer for the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA).

"We've been trying to engage with them [government] in a number of meaningful ways since the court order but [they] just ... [don't] show up for meetings. We sent 10 communications through to local government, offering assistance from civil society, but communications were consistently ignored."

In a statement released on 17 September, Breen said he hoped the trial's postponement until 20 November would offer government, civil society and aid organisations time to look at why shelter residents had not reintegrated into communities. However, the provincial authorities may take a different approach.

"We really have to close them now," said Gauteng provincial spokesperson Thabo Masembe, referring to the remaining three camps in Johannesburg and just east of the city. "Even if we wanted to keep shelters open for longer, we cannot do so. Whatever we do, we won't be able to sustain the shelters past [October] because the funding will dry out completely."

The operational costs of the shelters have been funded through the provincial Disaster Management Act, which provides financial support in emergency situations for a period of time stipulated by the premier. Masembe said the Gauteng Premier, Mbhazima Shilowa, had already extended the period and the funding once, so closing the camps had now become a priority.

United Nations agencies and partners were already providing assistance to those legally in the country, who would then be asked to leave the camp, he said. The Department of Home Affairs was also removing people found to be without valid permits and who were not seeking asylum.

Breen called this kind of assistance, which is conditional upon the recipient's departure from the camps, coercive; this, and the deteriorating physical conditions in the camps, was one of CoRMSA's primary concerns.

"Financial assistance has been provided by civil society, but shelter residents have indicated that this by itself is in most instances not enough to secure accommodation," Breen said in a statement.

"In addition, no assistance in terms of food has been given to those who are trying to leave the shelters. As a result, many of those who have already left ... are in a desperate situation, and struggle to feed their families."

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