Targets of xenophobia ousted from camps in South Africa

The international medical humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), today expressed concern about reports that South African authorities are using humanitarian assistance to drive victims of the xenophobic violence to leave the camps set up to house them following attacks earlier this year. As of Tuesday, more than 2,000 people were still seeking refuge in the camps.

On Tuesday, one camp was closed, and on Wednesday another two were closed. Residents of the camps have been pushed to leave the sites after receiving token financial assistance and some have been relocated to one of Johannesburg’s many informal settlements by "Red Ants" - private security forces with a reputation for forced evictions and intimidation. 

"It is unrealistic to expect that 500 Rand (45 Euro) is enough for people to rebuild their lives after having lost everything in the attacks," said Alexis Moens, MSF Project Coordinator in Johannesburg. "Because there are no real options, there is no real choice. We are worried that our patients are being dumped in yet another new location with no protection or assistance. When they arrived in the informal settlements, some people have been provided with UNHCR tents - this just once again makes them more visible and vulnerable. We have heard that 40 of them have returned to the Boksburg camp..."

Access to the sites has never been guaranteed by the authorities, and increasingly aggressive tactics have been used to empty the camps over the past month. On Tuesday, patients were unable to access the MSF mobile clinic parked outside the camp at Rand Airport; they were told that if they left the site, security guards would not allow them to get back in.

In addition to the camp closures in Johannesburg and in Acasia camp in Pretoria, MSF staff were told that food rations would be reduced due to "lack of money". Today, MSF confirmed that residents had received only one meal all day. Other basic services, such as water supply, had already been decreased by authorities.

"Humanitarian aid must be provided to meet the needs of vulnerable people," said Rachel Cohen, Head of Mission for MSF in South Africa. "Under no circumstances should it be used to coerce them to leave the camps when they have nowhere to go."

MSF has been providing assistance to those displaced by the xenophobic attacks since the first eruptions of violence in May. Over the past four months, mobile teams have carried out 11,000 medical consultations and an additional 11,000 mental health consultations in Johannesburg and Pretoria. At the height of the emergency, mobile medical and logistical teams provided health care, blankets, plastic sheeting, and hygiene kits in 15 sites in Johannesburg and seven sites in Khayelitsha, Cape Town