Mail & Guardian/Reuters/Sapa, 3 June 2008
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Immigrant leaders in South Africa said on Monday that thousands of refugees frustrated at miserable living conditions were on the point of retaliating against a wave of xenophobic attacks. Tens of thousands of immigrants have been forced to take refuge at temporary shelters around the country after mobs began attacking foreigners in squatter camps three weeks ago, killing at least 62 people. "The tension is there, already, for a war," Deo Kabemba Bin Ngulu, a refugee leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), told reporters. Human rights groups have condemned the conditions in the tented camps set up to house the displaced foreigners, with freezing temperatures at night and the threat of disease. "They are terrorised, they are traumatised ... and some of them [can] resort to violence because they think, now, everywhere is violence," said Somali businessman Hoosein Omar. The large Somali community in Cape Town, South Africa's second biggest city and top tourist attraction, has been a particular focus of anger from poorer residents of the city, who accuse the migrants of stealing their jobs. Hundreds of mostly Somali traders marched to Parliament in Cape Town on Monday to protest against the anti-immigrant attacks. "We are African. We are from this soil. I am not a foreigner ... and this soil is Africa," Abdul Kadir Karakoos, a Somali leader in Cape Town, told reporters. He said 600 Somalis had been killed in anti-immigrant violence in South Africa since 2002. More than 50 000 Mozambicans and Zimbabweans have returned home because of the unrest, which has now subsided. The violence started in a Johannesburg township on May 11 before spreading to other cities, with mobs wielding machetes and axes, driving foreigners from their homes. The international medical humanitarian group, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), said facilities for displaced refugees were inadequate. "After living in unacceptable conditions for up to three weeks, the people displaced are now being relocated by the South African government, without proper access to information about their rights and options, to sites that are unprepared and insecure," the group said in a statement. "They say they are being treated like animals." The South African government, widely criticised for its initial slow response, said more than 1 300 people had been arrested in connection with the violence, which it says is being driven by criminal elements. The violence, which has shattered South Africa's image as a welcoming home for asylum-seekers, is being stoked by soaring food and fuel prices and competition for jobs and housing. Meanwhile, the Johannesburg High Court has granted an urgent interdict preventing the relocation of foreigners displaced by xenophobic attacks who are being accommodated at the city's Cleveland and Jeppe police stations, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) said on Monday. The interim interdict was granted by Justice Kathy Satchwell shortly after 5pm, said LHR advocate Jacob van Garderen. It prevents the relocation of the foreigners to a shelter at Vickers Road, City Deep. The application was brought by LHR in conjunction with the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church and MSF pending an order that would "ensure the safety of the displaced foreigners", the LHR said in a statement. "The media have reported that a number of the attacks on foreign nationals were perpetrated by mobs from various hostels around the city. LHR is concerned that the displaced foreigners will be placed in a position of vulnerability if they are relocated to the Vickers Road shelter as their security will not be guaranteed," it said. The LHR said that while it recognised the urgent need for temporary shelters, there were "serious concerns" about the safety of the temporary shelter at Vickers Road. "The Vickers Road shelter is being constructed on the site of an old railway station in area of Kaserne that is directly adjacent to a hostel. There were reports that hostel dwellers fired shots at the persons who were tasked with setting up the camp over the weekend," it said.