ANC Daily News Briefing/Sapa, 20 June 2008

PLEASE NOTE: Readers wishing to reproduce and reference this article
should contact the editors of the ANC Daily News Briefing and/or Sapa for permission

The South African office of the United Nations High Commission for Refuges failed to respond meaningfully to the needs of foreigners displaced by xenophobia, civil society bodies said on Friday. In a statement to mark World Refugee Day, several civil society bodies listed demands in a letter to the world body of the UNHCR. They said several insensitive comments had been made by officials that sought to promote SA tourism and reintegration exclusively instead of promoting the mandate of the UNHCR. "For weeks now the UNHCR has insisted that they cannot advise or intervene unless they are in receipt of a formal invitation from the SA government. "This is incorrect. Under the statute of the UNHCR they do not have to wait for a formal invitation from the SA government to intervene," the statement said. According to the civil society bodies the ultimate authority over the activities of the UNHCR rests with the General Assembly, and not with individual governments. The statement further said the Gauteng and Western Cape provincial governments indicated that they had sought the assistance of the UNHCR. The demands listed by the civil society bodies were that UNHCR SA must make available its plan for dealing with the requests and assistance of thousands of displaced people across the country as well as its plan to protect displaced people. They also called on the Executive Committee of the UNHCR to meet to discuss the crisis in SA. "It must acknowledge the callous and unhelpful attitude of the UNHCR officials in Pretoria and issue an official apology."