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Cablegate: South Africa: Xenophobia Victims Face Eviction

VZCZCXRO1885
RR RUEHDU RUEHJO
DE RUEHSA #2174/01 2761453
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 021453Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5891
INFO RUEHOR/AMEMBASSY GABORONE 5357
RUEHSB/AMEMBASSY HARARE 3723
RUEHTO/AMEMBASSY MAPUTO 5948
RUEHTN/AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN 6080
RUEHDU/AMCONSUL DURBAN 0222
RUEHJO/AMCONSUL JOHANNESBURG 8432

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PRETORIA 002174

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE/PRM FOR LANGE, DENTZEL

C O R R E C T E D COPY (ADDED PARA MARKINGS)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PREF PHUM SF
SUBJECT: SOUTH AFRICA: XENOPHOBIA VICTIMS FACE EVICTION
FROM CAMPS

REF: A. PRETORIA 1563
B. PRETORIA 2014

PRETORIA 00002174 001.2 OF 002

-------
Summary
-------

1. (U) At Camp Akasia sheltering foreigners displaced by
xenophobic attacks in May, the Gauteng Provincial Government
(GPG) dispatched a private security crew to confiscate army
tents from residents, leaving hundreds of men, women, and
children without shelter. The action was deplored by UNHCR
and Lawyers for Human Rights, who stressed GPG's duty to
formulate an actionable plan to reintegrate foreigners into
local communities. A week later GPG demolished three more
camps, leaving hundreds more migrants stranded, in defiance
of NGO appeals and a previous High Court order barring such
evictions. While GPG's statements of its intent were
conflicting, it appeared to have deliberately pressured
migrants to vacate the camps and fend for themselves. End
Summary.

------------------------
Reported "Red Ants" Raid
------------------------

2. (U) On September 23 an estimated 800 foreign migrants were
left without formal shelter at Camp Akasia northwest of
Pretoria (ref A), when security forces contracted by the city
council dismantled and hauled away the army tents that had
housed them since the outbreak of xenophobic violence last
May. The tents were taken down by Red Ants Security
Services, a security firm named for its workers' red uniforms
and known for its tough tactics. Red Ants are typically
brought in by the government during tense standoffs, such as
razing of squatter dwellings or strike actions by labor
unions. Newspapers described the camp residents as
scrambling to collect their belongings into makeshift
shelters of wood frames covered with blankets and black
garbage bags. Reportedly the GPG's rationale was that the
army needed its tents back. Migrants' representatives were
quoted as saying they had received no advance warning of the
action.

--------------------------------------------- --
UNHCR Deplores GPG Action; LHR Appeals for Plan
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (U) UNHCR Spokesman Yusuf Hassan decried the GPG's
confiscation of tents as "unacceptable" and "inexcusable,"
adding that UNHCR would seek to meet as soon as possible with
provincial authorities to remind them of their
responsibilities to the internally displaced persons (IDPs).
"There is an urgent need for these people to be housed," he
was quoted as saying. "There should have been discussions
about alternative accommodation, but there was none....
Closures need to be carefully planned and are definitely not
done like this."

4. (U) In a September 23 communiqu refugee advocacy group
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) assailed the "intimidation
tactics" at Camp Akasia, urging the GPG to formulate a cogent
plan for resolution of the IDP camp situation. Acknowledging
that the camps were not a long-term answer and should be
closed eventually, LHR highlighted the lack of any clear plan
to achieve that. GPG efforts to pave the way for
reconciliation and reintegration in townships were scant:
"While we note that government agents have been working on
the ground to investigate conditions in the communities, this
appears to have been on an ad hoc basis with no formal plan
in place." As a result, "there are still large numbers who
fear returning to communities." LHR called on the GPG to
Qfear returning to communities." LHR called on the GPG to
cease all threats and reminded it of a Constitutional Court
order barring eviction of IDP camp residents.

------------------------------
Residents Traumatized, Anxious
------------------------------

5. (U) On a September 26 visit by Emboffs to Camp Akasia, the
mood was anxious. Poloffs met with camp managers, the UNHCR
site representative, and many of the migrants. Red Ants had

PRETORIA 00002174 002.2 OF 002


seized 47 tents, which were then replaced with tents from
UNHCR. Residents were traumatized and deeply fearful. Some
lacked access to necessary medication. No one was prepared
for a closure of the camp, which they had been told would
occur on September 30.

---------------------------------------
More Evictions Denied -- Then Conducted
---------------------------------------

6. (U) Gauteng gave verbal assurances there would be no camp
closures, which it then contradicted with the demolitions.
Akasia residents said a parliamentary task team had visited
their camp and promised to help the IDPs decide their own
courses of action -- without any warning of camp demolition.
On September 29 GPG spokesperson Thabo Masebe assured us
unequivocally that no camps would be forcibly closed the next
day. That evening Masebe left the country, so he was
unavailable for comment the next day when GPG's Red Ants
proceeded to dismantle remaining camps at Glenanda, Boksburg,
and Rand Airport, leaving residents stranded in the same
manner as at Akasia. After witnessing the confiscation of
tents, NGOs were appalled by GSG's transparent excuses that
residents were leaving of their own volition.

7.(U) On October 1 Emboffs visited the remains of Boksburg and
Rand Airport camps. At Boksburg, which housed migrants
mainly from neighboring Zimbabwe and Mozambique, GPG official
William Mtsanwisi said the majority of camp residents had
opted for repatriation, some groups hiring trucks for
transport using the small stipends of R 500 - 1,200 ($60 -
$150, depending on the size of the family) handed out by the
U.N. and GPG. The Department of Home Affairs was also on
site offering assistance to any migrant wishing to
repatriate. The Red Cross donated food parcels of canned and
dry goods. At Rand Airport, which had housed largely
Zimbabweans, large numbers of former camp residents milled
about the area while officials from the Zimbabwean Embassy
were assisting with repatriation.

--------------------------------------
No Way Out: Onward Options Problematic
--------------------------------------

8. (U) All options for these IDPs -- reintegration to townships,
voluntary repatriation to countries of origin, involuntary
deportation, or resettlement in third countries -- involve
risks and difficulties. While some areas of the Cape have
successfully returned foreigners to their township homes
after securing community buy-in, Gauteng province has made
little attempt to sensitize or secure host communities, and
returnees have been attacked and even murdered. A Somali man
told us that four of his extended family members had been
killed in their community the night before our visit.
Repatriation was also considered too dangerous for most, who
had come to South Africa to escape the ravages of war or
famine at home. UNHCR was accepting applications in Pretoria
for asylum resettlement, but without any special measures to
assist these victims of xenophobia.

------------------------------------------
COMMENT: Forcing A Solution, Come What May
------------------------------------------

9. (SBU) The Gauteng government, reluctant to establish the
IDP camps in the first place, has consistently been keen to
be rid of them in whatever way possible. Earlier efforts to
Qbe rid of them in whatever way possible. Earlier efforts to
close them were blocked by the Constitutional Court in
response to appeals by a consortium of refugee and rights
NGOs (ref B). In August, Lawyers for Human Rights advocate
Jacob van Garderen privately shared his opinion with us that
the provincial strategy was one of attrition, i.e. to wait
for migrants gradually to disperse and the issue to fade
away. Recent camp demolitions suggest a stepped-up, more
aggressive version of that attrition approach: Medicins Sans
Frontieres (MSF) program coordinator Alexis Moens suggested
to the press that Gauteng deliberately made camp conditions
unlivable so as to precipitate departures. Through this
action the GPG has acted in defiance of the High Court order,
of UN and NGO appeals, of its humanitarian duties, and of the
risk of renewed violence as foreigners filter back to
townships. End Comment.
LA LIME

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