ANC Daily News Briefing/Sapa, 8 August 2008
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Camps housing foreigners displaced by xenophobic violence should not be closed without their occupants being given "viable options", Doctors Without Borders said on Friday. The closures were unacceptable without the guarantee of adequate assistance and protection, said the humanitarian organisation's South Africa general director Sharon Ekambaram in a statement. This came after the Gauteng government said that all refugee camps would be dismantled soon. "The uncertainty has led to high levels of stress and anxiety, both of which negatively impact on their mental and physical health," said Ekambaram. During the last week of July, 19 percent of the more than 300 consultations carried out on displaced foreigners were for stress-related conditions, according to the organisation. "These include insomnia, anxiety, poor appetite and headaches. Authorities have not communicated any plans for the reintegration of the displaced, nor [have they] properly engaged in a dialogue with the camp residents about options for their immediate future," the statement read. While the camps were by no means a proper long-term solution, foreign nationals could not be expected to return to the communities that perpetrated violence against them without efforts to ensure their safety. "It is unacceptable that people who were forced from their homes once again are left out in the cold, having to find solutions for themselves." The medical organisation said it had treated over 9000 foreigners since the start of the xenophobic violence in May. According to Rachel Cohen, the organisation's local head of mission, many of the displaced had fled to South Africa seeking protection after instability and violence in their home countries. "It is imperative that they receive the protection and assistance afforded to them under national and international law." Doctors Without Borders appealed to South African authorities and the United Nations to make its plans about reintegration known, before any camp was closed. "The government should primarily consider its obligation to protect refugees," said Cohen.