South Africa: Displaced at Risk as Camps Close

For Immediate Release

South Africa: Displaced at Risk as Camps Close

SOUTH AFRICA - Amnesty International today said that those displaced by May's
xenophobic violence in South Africa face serious threats to their
safety, as the last remaining camps for the displaced are closing and
their asylum-claims are overwhelmingly rejected.

The warning came as the South African government claimed it was
handling the after-effects of the violence well at the annual meeting
of member states of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) taking place in
Geneva.

"The South African delegation presented a highly embellished picture
of its response to the displacement crisis," said Louise Moor, Amnesty
International's refugee rights expert, who visited the camps for the
displaced last month.

Amnesty International called for an immediate halt to any
deportations of displaced people from South Africa, pending access to
an effective appeal process with full procedural safeguards.

"The authorities are closing camps despite having no plan for the
safe reintegration of those at risk of violence, and officials are
rejecting nearly all asylum claims -- using gravely flawed procedures,
in violation of international law," said Louise Moor.

"These people are not only at risk in South Africa, but also facing
the risk of being forced to return to countries with serious human
rights problems, like Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and
Zimbabwe. They have no safe place to go."

The organization is urging the South African government to honour
its obligations towards those displaced by the xenophobic violence of
last May, and called on the UNHCR to intervene.

The violence in May led to thousands of people fleeing their homes
to escape beating, sexual assaults, looting and destruction of
property.

"While it is true that those displaced by the May violence initially
received temporary protection and access to basic services in camps,
they are now at serious risk of further human rights abuses," said
Louise Moor.

The Department of Home Affairs implemented accelerated asylum
procedures lacking procedural safeguards in the Cape Town area camps in
late September and at the Gauteng Provincial camps in August. Amnesty
International said that these asylum procedures were overwhelmingly
characterised by:

  • a lack of information on the process;
  • a lack of adequate interpretation during the taking of statements;
  • a lack of confidentiality in the interviewing process;
  • absence of adequate legal advice;
  • mistakes of fact in the decisions by Refugee Status Determination Officers;
  • and
    failure to consider relevant country of origin information.

"The speed with which statements were taken, and in some cases the
abusive conduct of the officials, added to the confusion and distress
for applicants," said Moor.

 

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