Closure of South African camps on hold pending court ruling, says UN agency

15 August 2008

South Africa’s Constitutional Court has instructed officials in Gauteng province not to dismantle six temporary shelters housing foreigners forced to flee their homes by xenophobic violence, pending a ruling on the issue, the United Nations said today.

Today was the deadline announced by the provincial government for the closure of the camps, whose residents are mostly Zimbabweans, as well as people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Mozambique, Burundi and Rwanda.

“Most of the sites are still intact and although some of the people have left in anticipation of the closure, there remains a substantial number of people in those camps,” Yusuf Hassan, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in South Africa, told UN Radio today.

A spate of xenophobic attacks in May on foreigners and ethnic minorities in South Africa claimed the lives of 56 people. UNHCR says that while most of the 40,000 people displaced by the violence have returned to their home within the country, some 8,000 people remain at camps in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Mr. Hassan said that at the moment there are about 3,500 people in six sites in Gauteng and another 4,500 in the Western Cape.

The agency has completed an assessment of those remaining in the camps and, along with its partners, is assisting them with cash donations.

The Constitutional Court is expected to resume its consideration of the case on Monday.


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