Many African immigrants in South Africa say there will soon
be no safe havens to protect them from violence against foreigners. This, after the government announced it
plans to close over 165 camps set up after attacks against immigrants four
months ago. From
Washington, VOA’s Henok Fente reports .
It is the beginning of the rainy season in South Africa. A
dark cloud casts a shadow over Aksia Refugee camp in northern Pretoria. Soon it
starts to rain. Burundian refugee Abas Ndikumali sits in the downpour, along
with his fellow refugees from all over Africa. He speaks to VOA on his cell
“There is no service. The UNHCR has stopped all the
services. There is no food. Now we have no tents, we have nothing. By now it is
raining and it is really very bad,” he says.
Ndikumali and his fellow refugees came to South Africa in
search of opportunity. Many fled their countries because they faced political
But there has been violence in the country the immigrants
call their second motherland.
Last May, anti-immigrant violence erupted in several South
African townships, killing at least 62 foreign nationals.
In response, the South African government
established more than 165 refugee camps to protect immigrants.
The camps soon became home for tens of thousands of families
made up of undocumented persons, refugees, asylum seekers and documented
By the beginning of the summer South African authorities
started closing down the sites, including Aksia, where Ndikumali and 1,300
others from all over Africa sought sanctuary.
Ndikumali remembers what happened in the camp one night in
June when South African authorities came to the camp.
“The Metro Police came here and shot dead three people and
up to now they have never identified where they put the bodies. And there are
no investigations. The police came and attacked the
refugees and injured many. They were mixing rubber bullets and live ammunition.”
But Liezel Thom of the local 702 Eye Witness News radio
station which covered the attacks says she hasn’t witnessed police firing at
However, other immigrants such as Yilma Shewa Taye from Ethiopia say the
the police opened fire on them at night when no one was watching. Taye says
they have no water and food supplies.
A member of the South African Parliament representing the
ruling ANC party Obed Bapela says the camps were meant to be temporary.
“The government has taken a position to close down the
camps. The Aksia one was one of the ones that have to be closed.”
Bapela says the refugees are taking advantage of the
situation. He stresses the need to integrate them into society.
“What people were doing was that; because there was free
lodging, free food, for a period of two months, they just left from wherever
they were staying and went there to [take advantage of] the free arrangements.”
Reporter Thom of Eye Witness News says the refugees don’t
feel safe returning to their communities.
“They say they would rather stay at the Aksia camp and die
from hunger or from thirst than go back to the communities from which they
fled. They also say they would rather have the police shoot them than return to
Bapela says there are today more than five million
immigrants in South Africa.
An independent joint commission that investigated the
situation criticized the UNHCR and the South African government for failing to
meet the needs of these African immigrants and called for the UN Human Rights
Council to act immediately.
To date, the immigrants and the South African media say
attacks in the Akasia camp are continuing.