SOETWATER REFUGEE CAMP TO BE CLOSED

The Times , 18 June 2008

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The Soetwater camp for xenophobia refugees, once the largest in Cape Town, is to be shut down over the next few days and its remaining residents accommodated elsewhere, mayoral spokesman Robert Macdonald said today. The move comes as the total number of refugees in city facilities has dropped to about 8,500, from a peak of 18,000 in the immediate wake of last month’s anti-foreigner violence. Macdonald said the number at Soetwater, a holiday resort on the Atlantic coast, had shrunk to 1,300 from an earlier 4,000. A number of tents at the camp were flattened by strong wind over the long weekend. He said the city wanted to shut down the camp soon, as the winter weather was deteriorating. Officials would negotiate with the refugees there on moving them to another camp, Blue Waters on the Cape Flats. There were only 200 people at Blue Waters at the moment, and tents were ready there for new arrivals. "The safe areas [camps] were only ever meant to be a temporary measure to save lives when the xenophobic violence first broke out," Macdonald said. The camp housing most refugees was currently the Youngsfield military base, with 1500 people. About 1,500 people were still scattered at some 15 community halls. "We are seeking to reduce the number of sites where people are being sheltered to make the situation more manageable," he said. This included rationalising the community halls. He said some of the refugees had gone back to their original homes in Cape Town, while others might have found new homes. Some had likely gone back to their countries of origin. The situation of those refugees afraid to return to either their South African homes or their home countries would be the most difficult to deal with.