'WHY WE CAN'T GO BACK TO HOMES'

Cape Argus, 22 July 2008

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Some refugees who have tried to go back to the communities they were chased from say their attempts at reintegration have proved futile as they were again threatened and abused. This has cast a shadow over the ambitious deadline for reintegration set by the provincial government. The deadline expires tomorrow. The refugees' experiences echo a sentiment expressed by the Joint Refugee Committee of the Western Cape who, in a letter to Premier Ebrahim Rasool, said that by encouraging people to return to the townships the province was essentially signing their death warrants. Initially, nearly 20 000 refugees were displaced in the province in May. Some have gone back to their countries, while others have reintegrated. But almost 5 000 are still in the various camps and shelters set up by the city and the provincial government. Emilenne Nikwakwida, a mother of four, said that when the xenophobic attacks broke out in Samora Machel they took refuge at the His People's Church in Goodwood. After a month at the church, she said they were asked to leave as the church could not assist them anymore. "With my little baby I could not stay in a camp like this (Blue Waters refugee camp). The weather out here is not good, so I decided to go back to Samora Machel. That was on June 19," said Nikwakwida. She said when she arrived back in the community she was greeted by insults and threats to her life. "Why are you back? You take away our jobs, rent out our houses and think that you are more intelligent than us " some of the community members told her. But she decided to stay put hoping the situation would calm down. She said matters came to a head when she was ordered by five youths, at a local shop, to move to the back of the queue because she was not South African. "What worries me now is that my children are not going to school. We cannot go back to Burundi because there is still war, and back at Samora they want to kill us," said Nikwakwida. A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), also at Blue Waters, who declined to be named for fear of victimisation, said he had lived in Lower Crossroads for five years and some of the local residents knew him well. He said when he tried to go back last week, they labelled him "xenophobia" and told him he should go back to his country. "I have two kids with a local woman. I love them. I'm their father and have to support them, but two young people threatened to kill me if I stayed," he said, adding that maybe time would heal everything and he would go back. The provincial government said the deadline to reintegrate about 5 000 refugees remains but refugee centres will remain operational until September 3.