TENSE MOMENTS AS REFUGEES MARCH ON PARLIAMENT

Mail & Guardian/Sapa, 2 June 2008

PLEASE NOTE: Readers wishing to reproduce and reference this article
should contact the editors of the Mail & Guardian and/or Sapa for permission


There were a few tense moments on Monday when a crowd of several hundred refugees marched to Parliament to air their grievances over the recent xenophobic violence. After being addressed by, among others, Zackie Achmat of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and refugee leaders, sections of the crowd surged towards a small line of police officers outside the main gates of Parliament's Roeland Street entrance. The officers had their hands full keeping the chanting crowd at bay for a while, but the tension eased and the refugees moved back a few metres. A memorandum was eventually handed over to a government representative and the crowd began to disperse. Achmat apologised to the refugees "on behalf of the entire country" for the attacks meted out on them by mobs in some parts of the country about two weeks ago. He lamented the lack of "moral leadership" on the part of government during the crisis, especially President Thabo Mbeki, Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool and Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille. It was necessary now to ensure compensation was provided to the victims, that the secure reintegration of those who wanted to return to the areas they were driven from takes place and that assistance was provided to those wanting to return to their countries of origin, Achmat said. The refugees made no bones about their desire for United Nations assistance, with continuous chants of "UN, UN" and dozens of placards calling for action by the UN High Commission for Refugees.