Attacks on foreigners: Group plans swift reactions

2008-05-29 00:00

A CRISIS coalition to prevent and respond to attacks on refugees and foreign nationals living in and around Pietermaritzburg was launched on Wednesday.

The initiative brings together mayors, civil society activists, faith-based organisations, refugees and foreign nationals. Thirty people representing the organisations, including three from Burundi, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, attended a meeting convened by the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa) to form the crisis network.

The meeting established a working committee to co-ordinate a fast-track response to appeals for safe houses, food, clothing, transport and trauma counselling for victims of xenophobia.

Pacsa director Daniela Gennrich told the meeting: “There is a real need to involve everybody at all levels … We also need to develop a way of how better to listen to what the issues are. There are legitimate concerns and grievances underlying these illegitimate actions.”

Pastor Samson Matabaro, chairman of the Pietermaritzburg Refugees’ Association and co-ordinator of the xenophobia response initiative, told the meeting that the main problem at the moment is fear.

“Many foreign families are not moving out of their homes. Their children are not attending school, adults fear to go to work, and vendors are afraid to sell their goods in markets or on street corners. Many of them are … afraid to buy food.”

Immediately after the meeting, a delegation led by uMgungundlovu Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee received an assurance from senior police officers that they will take a zero-tolerance approach to xenophobic flare-ups in the city.

“We would also like to see a more visible police presence in potential hot-spots such as taxi ranks, to see that foreigners feel more secure, and to obtain the co-operation of Home Affairs in facilitating the renewal of their residence permits. We also recognise that criminal elements are taking advantage of the xenophobia.”

Two more meetings in Pietermaritzburg are planned for today, and Monday next week, at which the coalition’s representatives will co-ordinate the network’s efforts more closely.

The meeting on Monday is at 8.30 am at Project Gateway, 4 Burger Street, and is open to representatives of any organisation that wishes to contribute to the coalition for a peaceful city, where “the only race is the human race” in the words of a SAPS campaign.

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