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South Africa: UNHCR aid provided to displaced

Briefing notes

South Africa: UNHCR aid provided to displaced

30 May 2008

Today, UNHCR is releasing 2,000 tents to the South African government to help provide much-needed shelter to thousands of people made homeless in the recent xenophobic attacks against foreigners, including refugees and asylum seekers. We are also making available to the government an expert site planner who will help the authorities in identifying suitable locations for temporary shelter. In addition, we have provided 7,000 blankets and 2,000 sleeping mats to the victims.

We hope that this initial donation will contribute to alleviating the suffering of people displaced by the xenophobic violence. The tents are being handed over to the South African Disaster Management Centre.

Field teams from our South Africa office, including two senior protection officers, are deployed in Gauteng Province, Cape Town and Johannesburg and have been assessing the needs at makeshift sites near police stations and other public venues where the victims of violence have gathered. UNHCR is working through its partners to provide food, shelter, blankets and other basic household items. These efforts are expanding and will continue.

We share the government's view that camps are not an appropriate response to the displacement caused by xenophobic attacks. Such facilities often create more problems than they solve. However, given the immediate humanitarian needs, UNHCR fully appreciates the current situation in which displaced people are crowded together, without proper shelter and sanitation facilities. Temporary accommodation is needed immediately.

Yesterday, South Africa announced plans to address the massive displacement in the wake of violent attacks against migrants and refugees that had engulfed the country since 11 May. Fifty-six people were killed and an estimated 100,000 people uprooted in systematic raids carried out by marauding gangs in South Africa's main urban centres. The majority of displaced were undocumented migrants from Mozambique, Malawi and other African countries, some of whom have since returned to their countries of origin, or to a third country. To date, some 42,000 migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, are sheltered in 95 makeshift sites, mostly in Gauteng and Western Cape provinces.

One of the key elements of the government plan is to move the displaced from their current locations to the new sites - which the government refers to as "temporary places of safety" - where they can be better assisted. For UNHCR, it is imperative that these temporary shelter sites meet internationally accepted standards and good practices.

Among those affected are thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia and other African countries, whose homes were destroyed and businesses looted, and burned. There are presently more than 128,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa, coming from a wide variety of countries.