Cape Argus, 3 June 2008

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Refugees at the Blue Waters safety site in Strandfontein shut out provincial and city authorities, refused aid and apparently threatened to burn down the camp if UN representatives were not brought in to speak to them on Monday. The 166 refugees at the camp, including children, have since gone on a hunger strike and are now refusing to deal with any South African authorities after being "ignored" for the past 10 days. And they have banned all black policemen from entering the site after an officer allegedly waved a firearm in front of a mother and her baby on Monday morning. The incident angered the refugees and prompted them to cordon off the safety site with sandbags, bins and tyres - banning anyone from coming in and demanding the presence of the UN. The incident allegedly came shortly after a bus scheduled to take the refugees to a mass meeting in the Cape Town city centre failed to arrive. Police negotiators were called in to quell the situation and from about 11am on Monday a strong police presence was deployed. The police's negotiation team convinced them to hold off any action until late afternoon when the UN office could be contacted. Negotiators appointed by the provincial government were later brought in to assist. But more than three hours of tense negotiations proved fruitless. The refugees then settled on passing their concerns on to the SA Human Rights Commission, which they had called to assist them. Despite calls from the refugees over a loudspeaker to bring commission officials into the camp, police prevented them from entering. After a while, refugees allowed journalists to enter the camp. Speaking to the Cape Argus, site spokesperson Yves Bonyeme denied that they had threatened to burn down the premises. "The police are making as if we are criminals. We don't have firearms. We have babies and kids. Why are they so scared?" he asked. Bonyeme explained that they had prepared to go to the refugee march but then the buses did not arrive. "We were looking forward to going to the march because we felt it was our way to go to government and explain our issues. "We have been here for 10 days and there have been no officials from government. We are getting frustrated. We are being forgotten. "Now we want the UN High Commission for Refugees to explain everything to them," said Bonyeme. The Blue Waters refugees were set to meet the SA Human Rights Commission at 10am on Tuesday to receive feedback from contact made with the UN on their behalf. Disaster Management spokesperson Charlotte Powell confirmed that city staff had withdrawn from the site. She said the city had heard reports of an officer wielding a gun but could not say if it was a Metro police officer or an SAPS member.