REFUGEES 'SENT TO DEATHS'

Cape Argus, 21 July 2008

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The Western Cape government is "sending refugees to their deaths" by encouraging them to return to the townships where they had been originally living, the Joint Refugee Committee of the Western Cape has claimed in a letter to Premier Ebrahim Rasool. And the committee is angry because it says it was promised a meeting with Rasool and Patrick Chauke, chairman of Parliament's portfolio committee on Home Affairs, before July 10, but the meeting has not happened yet - apparently because of political upheavals in the ruling ANC and the likely ousting of Rasool as premier. But Rasool has denied the committee's charge, saying today that more than 15 000 refugees had been reintegrated "successfully and peacefully" and that some local communities had taken special security measures to ensure the safety of those returning. The committee's warning was made in an open letter to Rasool, released today. It comes as the provincial government says its Wednesday deadline to reintegrate about 5 000 refugees remains but it will continue to keep refugee centres operational until September 3. In its open letter, the refugee committee said Rasool had an-nounced to the media on July 3 that all the "safety camps" would be closed by Wednesday and all government-funded humanitarian aid to refugees would cease. "What you have not announced are the details of your plan for the much trumpeted goal of 'reintegration' and how you propose to guarantee the security of refugees returning to the townships." It claimed that, nationally, two Somalis had been murdered on their return to their communities. They named Mohamed Nor Adow, who, it said, had been shot in Retreat on July 3. A second man, Hussein Mohamed, died in Mabopane, Pretoria North on June 28. "By encouraging people to return to the townships, Mr Premier, you are sending people to their deaths." The Cape Argus has not yet verified the claims of the two deaths. In response, Rasool told the Cape Argus today: "While one can understand that there will naturally be fear of returning to communities where people have experienced attacks, the truth of the matter is that from almost 20 000 foreign nationals displaced, the last count was that we were now at 4 800. That shows that over 15 000 people have been reintegrated successfully and peacefully. "We have, in some of the communities - like Khayelitsha and Masiphumelele - taken very specific safety precautions. "We have one reported attack that I know of, but on investigation it appeared more like a Friday night robbery than an attack," Rasool said. But the refugee committee said in its letter that it had provided proof of why it believed reintegration wasn't safe and it wanted the government to explain why it believed otherwise. It listed several families who had attempted to "reintegrate" into Lower Crossroads and Gugulethu but who had been attacked again and forced to return to the Blue Waters refugee camp. "The police cannot protect us, even if there were enough of them and they were all committed to doing so." The committee asked why the leadership of the refugee communities had not been consulted about the "alleged reintegration plan" or about any other matter affecting the refugees during the past two months. The committee asked Rasool to explain "exactly how you envisage reintegration happening, which non-government organisations and government departments you are working with to implement the plan, who will be in charge and when we can see a copy of it". "Most importantly, how are you going to guarantee the security of returning refugees?" the committee asked. There are still about 4 769 displaced immigrants, from an estimated 20 000 who fled their homes when xenophobic violence broke out in May. Dr Elnien Steyn of the province's Disaster Risk Management team said the deadline for reintegration remains Wednesday. She said the government was optimistic that the deadline would be met, "depending on how the week goes". Steyn said yesterday that although there was no new deadline, Disaster Management centres would remain fully operational. She said they had envisaged keeping the centres open until September 3 which was the "cut-off" date. Thousands of displaced immigrants have been living in municipal halls, churches, mosques and at five "safety" sites: Soetwater, Silwerstroom, Blue Waters, Youngsfield Military Base and the Chrysalis Academy in Tokai. Prosper Tafa, a spokesman at Blue Waters, said things were peaceful at the camp.