The Times , 9 June 2008

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Sea rescue officials have dismissed claims that two refugees in the Western Cape committed suicide by drowning yesterday because of “appalling conditions” in their temporary camp. The suicides supposedly took place at the Soetwater camp, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town. The camp houses hundreds of refugees from the recent xenophobic violence in Western Cape townships. According to several Somali refugees, the police had tried to stop refugees walking into the water but some had made it into the rough seas. But last night the National Sea Rescue Institute’s Craig Lambinon told The Times: “I can confirm that no-one jumped into [the sea] to commit suicide. “We have no report of anyone trying to commit suicide or of any missing person. When we arrived on the scene, we rescued those who had jumped in and [they] claimed they were going in to save someone else,” said Lambinon. He said rescuers searched the area and found no bodies. “We have no evidence that people committed suicide.” The Western Cape police spokesman could not be reached. Refugees say life at the camp is a “living hell”. “It is not a life that we want, ” displaced Somali Abdul Osman said. “We want homes and we want the UN and the South African government to help us, but we do not want this reintegration because we cannot say that this xenophobia will not happen again.” Pastor John Thomas, a community leader who has been assisting at the camp since its erection 15 days ago, said the perception at the camp was that the government was doing little to help. “It is a false perception. Obviously, they are not getting the full message, but there has been government intervention. “[The refugees] are desperate because they are afraid of what reintegration could mean,” he said. “They have been hearing stories of post-xenophobia attacks after reintegration and they are afraid. They felt that the only way to have people listen to them was to draw attention to themselves by threatening to commit suicide,” he said. Thomas said the tactic seemed to have worked because local political leaders visited the camp in the afternoon. He said the camp was cold and wet but food and shelter were available so it was not “a living hell”, as the refugees had said.