UN jets in to help terrorised South African refugees

THE South African cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria were declared a disaster area yesterday in the wake of anti- foreigner violence that has left some 80,000 citizens of the two cities homeless.

The decision enables extraordinary measures to be taken under the country's Disaster Management Act, including permitting the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to manage ten camps for Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans, Ethiopians, Somalis, Eritreans and Nigerians who have been driven from their homes.

Both cities are in Gauteng, South Africa's richest province.

Senior UNHCR officials have arrived from Geneva and will begin intervening today. There have been reports of disease, fighting and rape among refugees sheltering in police compounds, churches, community halls and makeshift shelters on waste land, where sanitation has broken down and there are few doctors to treat the sick.

The UNHCR sites will include tents, latrines, medical workers and food, but the government will not allow them to be classified as "refugee camps" – they should be described as "temporary shelters", it said.

The government is aiming to reintegrate the foreigners into the communities from which they were driven, with the loss of at least 56 lives and some 700 wounded. But critics said it was being hopelessly unrealistic. The facts on the ground are "ethnic cleansing" by poor South Africans suffering 40 per cent unemployment and poor service delivery, and it will be impossible for the foreign migrants to return to homes that have been looted and burned.

A typical attitude is that of South African factory worker Jan Mahlaba, 33, a resident of the Ramaphosa settlement east of Johannesburg, where a young Mozambican, Ernesto Nhamuave, was publicly burned to death in a so-called "necklace killing". Mr Mahlaba said immigrants undercut wages and contributed to the country's high rate of violent crime. "I'm happy they are being killed because their lives are full of crime," he said.

The first task for the UNHCR, under the three-month disaster decree, will be to end the violence that has gripped an open-air camp of some 800 displaced Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans near Pretoria. Police opened fire with rubber bullets on the refugees when they refused to be moved. "People were killed here and they (the police] were looking," said a young Somali. "We don't want any help from the government. We don't trust them any more. We want the UN to help us."

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