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Refugees Out in Cold After Funds Dry Up

Resource type: News

Cape Argus (Cape Town) |

19 Jun 2008

By Natasha Prince

Several of the Caledon Square group of refugees were back on the streets on Wednesday night, geared up to sleep in the rain outside the Cape Town magistrate’s court after the Treatment Action Campaign ran out of funds to pay for their accommodation at a lodge in the city centre.

Standing in the rain in Buitenkant Street, wearing silver plastic bags donated by the Night Haven shelter, the refugees said they did not mind the light rain because they wanted to be in the city.

The TAC and the Cape Town Jewish Community said they were no longer able to cater for the group of refugees because they had run out of funds.

The group had been staying at the Train Lodge after initially sleeping outside the Caledon Square police station following the first xenophobic attacks in Cape Town almost a month ago.

Last week they and TAC members staged a sit-in protest at the Civic Centre. Together they handed over a memorandum to Mayor Helen Zille demanding that the government provide shelter for the group in the CBD, Salt River or Muizenberg. They refused to be sent to any of the six designated camps, saying they were too far from the city.

The refugees who spent Thursday night sleeping at the Civic Centre returned to their Train Lodge accommodation in the city at the weekend after failing in their bid to be put up at the Sea Point Civic Hall.

The TAC’s Nathan Geffen said the government had failed in its duty to provide for the refugees. “We have examined some of these so-called provincial venues based on a list provided to us by the city; they are inappropriate,” the TAC said.

The refugees want the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to help them with repatriation and have demanded shelter in the CBD or surrounding area until then.

They also want to be compensated for the loss of their homes and businesses.

The Social Justice Coalition, a division of the TAC, has demanded alternative shelter for the refugees.

“We have previously stated that the refugee camps are inhumane, illegal and immoral … the conditions are intolerable and do not meet minimum norms and standards for shelter, sanitation and protection. They are an indictment on our country,” the SJC said.

Ramazani Gibhare, originally from Burundi, said he preferred to sleep in the rain in the city because he did not want to be taken “far away”.

“In our country when it rains like this, we take a shower,” he laughed.

Victor Ngoy, from the DRC, said the different groups had been united in their fight to be heard. “We are struggling for one objective. But we are sleeping here until we get justice,” he said.

The city’s Pieter Cronje said community halls were not suitable for occupation.

“They are used as pension and grant pay-out points; day-care centres to look after children of working parents and for community and other events. They were not designed for occupation and most do not have kitchen or washing facilities and have limited toilets.”

In a statement, the city said the Caledon Square refugee group had been “offered safety, food and shelter at the Silwerstroom safety zone”.

Copyright © 2008 Cape Argus.

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