Refugees in South Africa

Refugee camps and reintegration question

South Africa Immigrants Attacks

After being housed in temporary places of safety (including police stations and community halls) for three weeks, those who fled the violence were moved into specially established temporary camps. Conditions in some camps were condemned on the grounds of location and infrastructure,  highlighting their temporary nature.

The South African government initially adopted a policy of quickly reintegrating refugees into the communities they originally fled and subsequently set a deadline in July 2008, by which time refugees would be expected to return to their communities or countries of origin. After an apparent policy shift the government vowed that there would be no forced reintegration of refugees and that the victims would not be deported, even if they were found to be illegal immigrants.

In May 2009, one year after the attacks, the City of Cape Town said it would apply for an eviction order to force 461 remaining refugees to leave two refugee camps in that city.

 Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika

Xenophobia in South Africa Before 1994

South African residents showcase a banne

European immigration

Restrictions on immigration can be traced back to the Union of South Africa, with the different states adopting different policies on foreigners. A prejudice against immigrants from eastern and southern Europe (measured against the welcome of those from western and northern Europe) has been documented. In the Cape Colony the Cape Immigration Act (No 30) of 1906 set as requirement the ability to complete an application form in a European language (including Yiddish) and proof of £20 as visible means of support.

Mozambican and Congolese immigrants before 1994

Between 1984 and the end of hostilities in that country an estimated 250 000 to 350 000 Mozambicans fled to South Africa. While never granted refugee status they were technically allowed to settle in the bantustans or black homelands created by the apartheid government. The reality was more varied, with the homeland of Lebowa banning Mozambican settlers outright while Gazankulu welcomed the refugees with support in the form of land and equipment. Those in Gazankulu, however, found themselves confined to the homeland and liable for deportation should they enter South Africa proper, and evidence exists that their hosts denied them access to economic resource.

Unrest and civil war likewise saw large numbers of Congolese immigrate to South Africa, many illegally, in 1993 and 1997. Subsequent studies found indications of xenophobic attitudes towards these refugees, typified by their being denied access to the primary healthcare to which they were technically entitled.

Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika

Xenophobia in South Africa After 1994

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Violence before May 2008

According to a 1998 Human Rights Watch report immigrants from Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique living in the Alexandra township were “physically assaulted over a period of several weeks in January 1995, as armed gangs identified suspected undocumented migrants and marched them to the police station in an attempt to ‘clean’ the township of foreigners.” The campaign, known as “Buyelekhaya” (go back home), blamed foreigners for crime, unemployment and sexual attacks.

In September 1998 a Mozambican and two Senegalese were thrown out of a train. The assault was carried out by a group returning from a rally that blamed foreigners for unemployment, crime and spreading AIDS.

In 2000 seven foreigners were killed on the Cape Flats over a five-week period in what police described as xenophobic murders possibly motivated by the fear that outsiders would claim property belonging to locals.

In October 2001 residents of the Zandspruit informal settlement gave Zimbabweans 10 days to leave the area. When the foreigners failed to leave voluntarily they were forcefully evicted and their shacks were burned down and looted. Community members said they were angry that Zimbabweans were employed while locals remained jobless and blamed the foreigners for a number of crimes. No injuries were reported among the Zimbabweans.

In the last week of 2005 and first week of 2006 at least four people, including two Zimbabweans, died in the Olievenhoutbosch settlement after foreigners were blamed for the death of a local man. Shacks belonging to foreigners were set alight and locals demanded that police remove all immigrants from the area.

In August 2006 Somali refugees appealed for protection after 21 Somali traders were killed in July of that year and 26 more in August. The immigrants believed the murders to be motivated by xenophobia, although police rejected the assertion of a concerted campaign to drive Somali traders out of townships in the Western Cape.

Attacks on foreign nationals increased markedly in late 2007 and it is believed that there were at least a dozen attacks between January and May 2008. The most severe incidents occurred on 8 January 2008 when two Somali shop owners were murdered in the Eastern Cape towns of Jeffreys Bay and East London and in March 2008 when seven people were killed including Zimbabweans, Pakistanis and a Somali after their shops and shacks were set alight in Atteridgeville near Pretoria.

Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika