Now Somali refugees in S Africa turn on other Africans

May 30th, 2008 - 10:24 am ICT by admin  

By Fakir Hassen
Pretoria, May 30 (IANS) In a strange twist to the South African xenophobia crisis, hundreds of Somali refugees in a camp north of here have refused assistance from South Africans and have even turned on fellow victims of the violence of the past fortnight from other African countries who have refused to support a call for a hunger strike. Angolan, Burundians, Rwandans and Democratic Republic of the Congo citizens disposessed of their belongings during the violence have charged that Somalians have threatened and in some cases physically assaulted them after they refused to join the call for a hunger strike to support the Somalian demands for intervention by the UN High Commission for Refugees.

The Somalins, supported by a handful of refugees from other African countries, are demanding that the UN repatriate them to their respective home countries or to other safe countries.

Somalians in the camp have said they want nothing more to do with the South African government which it claimed had not done enough to protect them, their families and their shops during the violent outbursts in a number of townships. In the past decade, Somalian traders have firmly entrenched themselves in these townships with small general dealer stores.

But a UN spokesperson, insisting on anonymity, said that even if the South African government agreed to intervention by the UN, such issues take time and their priority at the moment was to ensure the safety, health and welfare of the refugees in the camp. The South African government has so far resisted the temptation to call on the UN for assistance, although there have been suggestions in the past few days that some areas may consider declaring a state of emergency amid strained resources in the humanitarian crisis.

The Somalians, many of them Muslim, were also refusing food from a local relief organisation, the Institute of Islamic Services, who made special arrangements to ensure that they get the ‘halal’ food prescribed by their religion. Some of the food that was brought to the camp was reportedly thrown on a heap by Somalians and a few people from other countries.

The 1,300 refugees at the camp are forced to use only two large tents and 12 smaller army tents with limited ablution, with only 20 people having moved to a larger facility nearby, others alleging intimidation by the Somalians to remain at the old site.

Institute for Islamic Services representative Yusuf Mustafa spoke of the chaos that was the order of the day in the camp: “Because of the hunger strike call, many people have not been eating since Tuesday evening. The men have refused to even allow us to give food to the women and children food. They are even prepared to let their children die to prove a point.”

In an open line on radio station 702, angry South Africans reacted strongly to the Somalian actions, calling on South African authorities to act firmly and not give in to demands which could be echoed elsewhere and allow “further anarchy from foreign nationals who were refugees in South Africa,” as one caller put it.

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