Zimbabwean refugees fear being forced to reintegrate

2009-12-12 13:55

THE United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has given

no time frame for the reintegration of displaced Zimbabwean farm workers in De

Doorns.


It said that efforts were being put in place to ensure

reintegration but it depended on whether locals wanted them back.


Monique Ekoko, UNHCR senior protection officer, said National

Reconciliation Day on December 16 would be used to leverage reintegration.


“We need to keep working,” she said, adding that the SA Human

Rights Commission and the SA Council of Churches held a prayer meeting last

Sunday with the refugees and some locals in an effort to ensure the safe return

of the Zimbabweans to local communities.


The majority of camp residents told City Press that they were

worried because authorities on site were cutting down on services in order to

force them to reintegrate.


They claimed that the Red Cross had stopped the supply of hot meals

last week, the mobile clinic had been removed and the number of toilets was

being cut down.


They said authorities were now giving them food hampers consisting

of 1kg of ­sugar, 1kg of rice and 500g of beans with some other items.


They said each hamper, handed out ­every week, had to be shared

among four residents.


Richard Haridien, assistant director of social relief of distress

from the Department of Social Development, denied that services were being

reduced.


“It’s not true. However, there is a difference in food provision,”

he said, claiming that the residents had complained about the food provided by

the Red Cross.


He also conceded the problem with toilets, saying the “contract for

the toilets ran out on Monday”.


He did not say whether the contract was going to be renewed, but

added that the government had spent more than R500 000 on food provision through

the Red Cross.


“We don’t know what is going to happen to us here. The future is

not certain,” said a father of one in the camp on Wednesday night.

“People fear

being moved out, away from their jobs."


“What is happening is meant to force us out,” added another.


Meanwhile, the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) has threatened the UNHCR

with an urgent court application after a group of Zimbabwean refugees were

allegedly denied entry to a safety site in De Doorns.


On Tuesday, acting on behalf of eight of the refugees, the LRC gave

the regional UNHCR a day to confirm reception of the letter and to allow the

refugees into the camp.

It said failure to do so would amount to an urgent

application in court being launched without further notice.


According to refugee rights group People Against Suffering,

Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (Passop), nearly 30 displaced Zimbabweans

have been denied places in the camp since last Thursday.


Passop said some of the refugees had managed to “sneak” their way

back into the camp while others remained housed by sympathetic farmers.


The LRC wrote a letter to the UNHCR on behalf of the refugees

demanding that they be accepted into the camp.


The LRC argued that the refugees lived in the informal settlement

of Stofland in De Doorns at the time of the attacks and had their houses

destroyed in the process.


None of them was present, however, as they were working in

Malmesbury on short-term contracts, said the LRC.


Ekoko confirmed receiving the letter on Thursday.
 

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