Somali refugees create problems in South African relief efforts

June 9th, 2008 - 9:06 pm ICT by IANS  

By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, June 9 (IANS) Somali refugees appear to have become one of the most difficult groups to deal with following the xenophobic attacks last month as the South African government and aid relief workers try to assist them in temporary camps across the country. In the latest incident, the National Sea Rescue Institute expressed dismay at having had to spend more than 100,000 rands and many hours searching for four Somali refugees who were alleged to have committed suicide by walking into the sea from a camp off the Cape Town coast on Sunday.

The incident turned out to be a bluff on the part of the Somalis at the camp, who were threatening a hunger strike and suicide if they were not repatriated to countries such as the US or Britain by the UN.

After three rescue boats combed the beaches and coast in the area, it was determined that the rumours had been falsely spread by a self-appointed group of Somali leaders in the camp.

Earlier, the police defused a situation where about a hundred Somalis had been threatening to commit suicide by drowning. Police spokesman Andre Traut said half of them backed off on their own accord, and the rest were dissuaded by negotiators.

The group began refusing aid from South African agencies on Saturday, even threatening some relief workers. Authorities have since debarred aid workers providing food and health services from the camp for their own safety.

The Somalis have also rejected the South African government’s official preference for re-integrating them into the communities from which they were displaced in two weeks of xenophobic attacks last month that saw 62 people killed, thousands displaced and many more repatriated to neighbouring countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.

The Somali protests in Cape Town follow a similar situation at a camp in Pretoria last month, when a Somali-led resistance to being moved from unhygienic conditions to another camp nearby saw even women and children being threatened not to accept food from a Muslim welfare organisation that had made special arrangements for their Halaal food requirements.

The South Africans government, with assistance from the UNHCR, has set up temporary camps at various places to assist displaced people, intended to be for not more than two months as they proceed with re-integration plans.

But Somalis and nationals of some other countries are refusing to return to the mainly black townships where they ran businesses which have been burnt down or taken over by locals, who accused foreigners of taking over homes and jobs intended for the locals.

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