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Two weeks to resettle foreigners
31 July 2008

Temporary shelters set up to house foreigners displaced by xenophobic violence will be pulled down in a fortnight, and the occupants must be re-integrated into their communities.

Alexandra township
Alexandra township

FOREIGNERS displaced as a result of the xenophobic violence in Gauteng in May have just two weeks to integrate back into communities before the temporary shelters housing them are dismantled.

"It was never the intention of the government to create permanent separate settlements for foreign nationals," says a Gauteng government statement.

It was made clear to foreigners that the "shelters would provide urgent humanitarian relief to the displaced persons, while conditions were being created for them to safely return to their homes in their respective communities".

Six shelters were established in Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni at the beginning of June, with the proviso that they were to be dismantled in two months' time.

They will be closing on 15 August, which means that some 3 000 people still in the shelters will have to return to their original communities or find alternative accommodation.

The Gauteng government set up an inter-ministerial task team to monitor and bring the xenophobic violence in the province under control.

It is estimated that about 20 000 people were displaced by the violence that began in Alexandra on 11 May and spread to Diepsloot and Ekurhuleni and around the country. In all, 53 people died, nine of whom were South Africans. By the end of May over 500 people had been arrested.

"Foreign nationals have lived in South Africa for many years and throughout their stay here they have lived side by side with locals. Many of them have families and friends and their children have grown and attend school in the communities where they lived."

Re-integration of foreigners has been ongoing in Alexandra and Diepsloot, in Joburg, and further afield in Tembisa, Thokoza, Mohlakeng, Bophelong and Gugulethu in Ekurhuleni. Some have returned to their countries of birth.

"In all the areas where re-integration has happened, communities have warmly welcomed back the foreign nationals."

At a press conference on Thursday, 31 July, the social development MEC, Kgomotso Lekgoro, and the local government MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, stressed that there had been considerable consultation with local communities regarding the re-integration. Illegal occupants of houses that were vacated by foreigners have been removed, while the provincial government has helped to rebuild destroyed shacks, by means of an emergency housing fund.

"There has been no resistance to removing illegal occupants; the communities have helped," said Mahlangu. "We remain confident conditions for safety have been created."

She added that no-one would be forced to re-integrate, if that re-integration would result in difficult circumstances. And anyone inciting violence would be dealt with by the police. "The police will act - it is wrong for anyone to chase anybody from their homes. The police are ready; they have information and have been assisted by other security agencies."

When asked about allegations that the government had shown more concern for the foreigners than for South Africans, Mahlangu confirmed that South Africans in the shelters had received the same assistance as foreigners.

She indicated that a series of advertisements on radio and TV had been running to encourage the smooth re-integration of foreigners.

The City set up a Migrants' Helpdesk at the end of 2006, with the aim of providing migrants with information on housing, education, health care, and non-governmental organisations. The helpdesk is in the CJ Cronje Building, 80 Loveday Street, Braamfontein.

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