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Row erupts over refugee camp near Cape of Good Hope as authorities grapple for solutions

Row erupts over refugee camp near Cape of Good Hope as authorities grapple for solutions

A dispute erupted Tuesday over a sprawling refugee camp near South Africa's most famous beauty spot for some 3,500 foreigners forced out of their homes by a wave of violence. Calls mounted on the government to deal with the uncontrolled immigration blamed for the xenophobia.
Cape Town city authorities said they would challenge a court order forcing them to open up community centers and move the displaced from the Soetwater "safe site" on a wind-swept beach near the Cape of Good Hope, saying this risked exacerbating tensions with local South Africans.
"We want to reduce tensions, not increase them," said Cape Town spokesman Robert Macdonald.
Civil rights groups charge that the "safe sites" are like internment camps.
"The conditions there are so bad," Patrick Chauke, the powerful head of a parliamentary Home Affairs committee, said Tuesday. "The tents have been blown by the wind. There are women and children who are dumped there," he said of the former picnic area which now symbolizes South Africa's dilemma about what to do with the tens of thousands displaced by violence that erupted one month ago.
The Soetwater camp currently includes nearly 2,000 Somali refugees. They say they are too afraid to return to the communities that chased them out and looted their stores, can't return to Somalia, and want the U.N. refugee agency to move them to another country such as Australia or the United States.
U.N. representatives at the weekend explained this wasn't possible, prompting the Somalis to threaten charity volunteers, to trash food and to begin a hunger strike. They also threatened to jump into the rough, icy waters and claimed that several had already committed suicide by drowning.
"The problem is that there is no ship that will take them anywhere," Chauke said in a parliamentary debate on Home Affairs policy.
Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that the xenophobic attacks, which killed at least 60 people, would scar South Africa's image for years to come.
"The real damage and after effects of these acts of criminality, committed in the name of our people, will still be felt in our country long after the tents have been dismantled, and way beyond the street patrols of police and soldiers in our communities," she said.
Mapisa-Nqakula made it plain that there were no quick fixes to the root cause of the violence _ resentment among impoverished South Africans that foreigners are "stealing" scare jobs and services.
But critics said that her Home Affairs department, which is considered notoriously corrupt and has struggled to come up with a coherent immigration policy, should share the blame.
"So great are the problems in the department, so deep the malaise, so widespread the incompetence and lack of capacity, at times so depressing the sheer dysfunctionality, that it is almost impossible to start an objective assessment anywhere," said Mark Lowe of the opposition Democratic Alliance.
Lowe and other lawmakers _ both from the opposition and the ruling African National Congress _ said it was vital to reinstate the army on border patrol. It withdrew last year, but the police are too badly staffed and ill-equipped to fill the void.
Mapisa-Nqakula admitted last week that her department had no idea how many foreigners currently live among South Africa's 48 million people, attracted by its relative prosperity, stability and long, porous border.
There are believed to be up to 3 million Zimbabweans who fled the economic meltdown and political repression at home. Many have no documentation and are routinely deported. Others wait desperately in line for papers from Home Affairs.
Conditions at the Cape Town office are particularly bad, with asylum seekers spending days and nights in line under a highway bridge for fear of losing their slot.
One Zimbabwean asylum seeker last year died _ apparently of hunger and dehydration _ while he was in the line.
Chauke said he was appalled.
"It's raining, it's cold, it's windy. There are women and children, young and old ... standing in the rain. Normally they would sleep on the floor, but it's wet and they are standing the whole night with plastic covering their body."
He said, "It's a challenge that needs all of us to resolve it. It gives a very bad picture of this country."


Updated : 2020-12-03 03:56 GMT+08:00