Cablegate: Unhcr Reviews Assistance to Xenophobia Idp's

DE RUEHSA #2379/01 3041008
R 301008Z OCT 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

C. GENEVA 0867


1. On October 23, UNHCR Regional Representative Sanda
Kimbimbi reviewed UNHCR's support to the SAG in protection of
foreign victims of xenophobic attacks. After alerting
officials and police to signs of coming violence, UNHCR
negotiated for registration of internally displaced persons
(IDPs), lobbied for the prolonging of SAG shelters, opposed
(in vain) rapid adjudications of IDP asylum cases, and
provided cash assistance for IDPs to resettle in townships.
Deflecting public criticism of UNHCR by some NGOs, Kimbimbi
stressed UNHCR was in a supporting role to the SAG, which led
with its own resources and policies, particularly
nonencampment. On the ongoing stalemate with a remnant of
IDPs at Camp Akasia, Kimbimbi expressed UNHCR and SAG's joint
frustration with the group's insistence on resettlement and
refusal to accept safe shelter. While continuing to work
with Akasia IDPs, UNHCR believes the IDPs' behavior could
jeopardize the SAG's liberal attitude on migration. End

Warning Signs Not Heeded

2. Poloffs met on October 23 with UNHCR's Regional
Representative Sanda Kimbimbi and Resettlement Officer Abel
Jeru Mbilinyi to review UNHCR's responses to this year's
xenophobic violence. When attacks first broke out in March
and April, frightened foreigners showed UNHCR threatening
notes that had been distributed to their homes. UNHCR met
with SAG officials and police commanders nationwide, warning
that violence was liable to spread and urging increased
police presence in areas where non-nationals lived. Although
the Minister of Home Affairs visited Pretoria suburbs
advocating tolerance, the reaction of other SAG branches was
"superficial," said Mbilinyi. After attacks in Gauteng, SAG
authorities at a workshop in the Cape said such violence
could never happen in their province -- only to see it erupt
the next day. Despite being warned, the SAG was still caught
off guard.

IDP Registration: Mixed Results

3. After President Mbeki deployed the Army to calm
townships, SAG focus shifted to displaced victims gathered in
makeshift camps. In late May, says Kimbimbi, UNHCR began
negotiations with the SAG to register IDPs at camp sites.
Registration data would help the SAG to budget for
humanitarian aid, and enable the UNHCR to propose solutions
-- to regularize the migrants' stay, to ensure proper
management of sites, and to plan for reintegration. The SAG
chose to conduct the registration itself in place of UNHCR.
Kimbimbi said the process was useful in some places, such as
in those camps where many previously undocumented Zimbabweans
opted to formalize their status. At other sites, however,
the attempt was a "flop," says Kimbimbi, because voluntary
registration attracted few participants. At Camp Akasia (Ref
A), only 300 of the 1200 camp residents agreed to register.

Akasia: Set on Resettlement

4. Non-registration at Akasia was symptomatic of a larger
issue among its mainly Somali and Ethiopian IDPs -- their
insistence on asylum in a third country (not South Africa).
"They have shown a total refusal to cooperate," said
Kimbimbi. "Fundamentally the problem is that their agenda
QKimbimbi. "Fundamentally the problem is that their agenda
from the beginning has been resettlement, and resettlement
only." Originally just 200 IDPs congregated outside UNHCR
offices, bused to Akasia by the Mayor's office, the Akasia
group swelled as migrants from all over South Africa heard
(false) rumors of U.N. resettlement plans there. In fact the
site was never recognized by Gauteng province, nor by UNHCR
(despite regular visits). While most xenophobia IDPs have
dispersed (via repatriation or reintegration), a core group
at Akasia continues to claim that any option but resettlement
would be "suicide."

PRETORIA 00002379 002 OF 003

In Search of Resolution

5. Resettlement screening lasting over a year cannot occur
at the Akasia site, said UNHCR, yet attempts to shift the
group to church shelters have so far been fruitless. UNHCR
offered reintegration aid of R 2000 ($200) per individual and
R 3000 ($300) per family, plus food packages worth R 300
($30), but there had been no takers, apart from families
already living in town while the fathers stayed at the camp
to press for resettlement. Jesuit Relief Services (JRS) had
identified charitable shelters to house the Akasia IDPs,
which UNHCR stood ready to fund, but as recently as October
22 UNHCR could persuade only two Akasia IDPs to accept the
offer. UNHCR has enlisted churches, and South African Human
Rights Commissioner (SAHRC) Jody Kollapen, to lobby the IDPs
to move to safer shelters. On the warm reception of
Kollapen, Kimbimbi said ruefully, "They trust him because
they believe he can deliver resettlement. The same is true
when they see you, an American. If you can't deliver on that
they will reject you... as they do UNHCR."

Holdouts Run a Range of Risks

6. In UNHCR's view, not only was the Akasia group's plight
"self-inflicted" when safe shelter was freely available, but
by remaining as illegal squatters on government property the
group also risked separation, arrest, and deportation. The
Department of Social Development might forcibly remove
children to places of safety, separating them from parents as
they had done among unauthorized IDP camps beside the R28
highway. The Department of Home Affairs, said Kimbimbi, was
"planning to move on Akasia" with accelerated asylum reviews.
UNHCR had tried in vain to stop the latter practice,
conducted in the camps' unfavorable conditions, and likely to
end in deportations of the majority of IDPs who were in fact
economic migrants. Rejection rates were particularly high
among Somalis, who told SAG interviewers they wanted
resettlement and did not wish to remain in South Africa --
hence were by definition not granted asylum here.

SAG Has Lost Patience

7. While the SAG was once willing to make an effort to
assist victims of xenophobia, said Kimbimbi, that attitude
has collapsed from the combative approach of Akasia
residents. "Officials want to do the right thing. But with
this group they have tried all they can." Television news
crews captured residents refusing food, and throwing it on
the ground as not being acceptable. Mbilinyi said formerly
sympathetic South Africans were taken aback by these images.
Others filmed insulting former President Mbeki on Al Jazeera
news provoked outrage from the President himself. When UNHCR
urged Akasia residents to take responsibility for their
surroundings and dispose of garbage at a hygienic distance,
IDPs told Mbilinyi the SAG should clean up after them.
Kimbimbi summed up his frustration: "These situations should
be avoided -- absolutely, we all agree. But the community
refuses to cooperate."

SAG in the Lead Role; UNHCR Supporting

8. Deflecting NGOs' criticism that its action was
inadequate, Kimbimbi stressed the limits of the UNHCR's role
within the SAG's distinct policy framework. To those
Qwithin the SAG's distinct policy framework. To those
pressing UNHCR to take the lead, he countered that UNHCR was
there "to support government, not substitute for it." The
SAG had the economic means to respond; ministries' duties
were well defined by law; and in early June the SAG formally
took charge of the issue, funding NGO direct assistance.
UNHCR could influence and advise the SAG -- but not shoulder
it aside. To those who wanted UNHCR to establish refugee
camps, Kimbimbi explained that South Africa was unique in
Africa in having a non-encampment policy mandating freedom of
movement. Although UNHCR and NGOs persuaded the SAG to keep
IDP "temporary shelters" camps open longer than intended,
ultimately these were a decision of the Minister of Home
Affairs and explicitly counter to the SAG's ethos.

PRETORIA 00002379 003 OF 003

Liberal Policy in Jeopardy?

9. UNHCR warned that Akasia IDPs' behavior could eventually
jeopardize the SAG's progressive attitudes and policies on
migration and asylum. "Home Affairs was previously very
liberal, but if you talk to them now you see they're changing
their view. Now they believe being liberal is being lax, and
that leads to problems." South Africa could follow European
countries in applying the "country of first asylum"
principle, invalidating applications from all nationals of
nonadjacent countries who crossed multiple borders en route
here. The SAG could suspend free movement of asylum seekers
in favor of encampment, and/or deny them access to work and
services. In judging the correct amount of pressure to apply
to the SAG, particularly with respect to a difficult case
like Akasia, Kimbimbi said "It's a balancing act. We can't
rush into assisting individuals -- meanwhile endangering the
concept of asylum and the non-encampment policy."

Solution In IDPs' Hands

10. COMMENT: In advance of a November 2-7 PRM visit to
Pretoria and Johannesburg, this meeting helped poloffs gain
UNHCR's perspective on its performance through the xenophobia
crisis. The PRM visit will further probe the responses of
IOs, NGOs, and the SAG to the human impact of this year's
violence against foreigners. The NGO and ecumenical
community continue to play a supportive role, alongside
organizations representing the IDPs' diverse ethnicities. We
understand the scope of UNHCR actions is limited by U.N.
mandate and SAG policy. There could well be errors or
shortfalls in its performance, which we are not in a position
to judge, so we look forward to the findings of the U.N.'s
own investigative team dispatched from Geneva in response to
NGOs' complaints that UNHCR Pretoria should be more
forward-leaning (Ref C).

11. Regarding the ongoing stalemate at Akasia camp, we agree
with UNHCR that the IDPs' current condition squatting in a
field is unsafe, unhealthy, unsustainable, and legally
precarious. We hope that SAHRC and JRS may jointly persuade
the IDPs to move to shelter, to enable asylum screening. The
Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CORMSA)
told us they are working on a mediation effort to achieve
this end. The UNHCR's Geneva team visited Akasia on October
29 and was slated to meet with poloffs on October 30. End

© Scoop Media

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