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UNHCR releases 2,000 more tents for South Africa xenophobia victims


UNHCR releases 2,000 more tents for South Africa xenophobia victims

UNHCR hands over 2,000 tents to the South African government to provide shelter to thousands of victims of recent xenophobic attacks.
30 May 2008
A makeshift camp for displaced foreigners in South Africa, who have been seeking assistance from UNHCR.

PRETORIA, South Africa, May 30 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Friday released 2,000 tents to the South African government to provide shelter to thousands of people made homeless in recent xenophobic attacks against foreigners, including refugees and asylum seekers.

UNHCR Regional Representative Sanda Kimbimbi handed over the tents - enough to house 10,000 people - to Lance Williams, executive director of the South African National Disaster Management Centre, during a brief ceremony at a government warehouse in the town of Germiston, near Johannesburg.

UNHCR chief spokesman Ron Redmond said it was also making available to the government an expert site planner, who will help the authorities to identify suitable locations for temporary shelter. In addition, the agency has 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 spokesman said.

Field teams from UNHCR's South Africa office, including two senior protection officers, have been deployed in Gauteng province, Cape Town and Johannesburg, where they 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.

The refugee agency shares 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.

But UNHCR said that, given the immediate humanitarian needs, it fully appreciated the current situation in which displaced people are crowded together, without proper shelter and sanitation facilities. Temporary accommodation is needed immediately.

On Thursday, South Africa announced plans to address the massive displacement in the wake of violent attacks against migrants and refugees that has swept the country in the past three weeks. At least 56 people were killed and an estimated 100,000 uprooted in raids carried out by marauding gangs in South Africa's main urban centres.

UNHCR staff offload tents at Germiston.

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.