There is so much happening in South Africa since anti-immigrant riots broke out last month that I can’t possibly keep up with all the news. This story, however, was an eyecatcher. Seems that Somalis are migrating to a camp near Cape Town enticed by rumors of possible resettlement by the UN to a first world country.
Conditions deteriorated and they were told that resettlement was likely not an option so many said they would jump into the sea and kill themselves.
Residents of Soetwater Camp, a shelter on the outskirts of Cape Town, have threatened to commit suicide in an attempt to draw attention to dire conditions in the camp and a growing feeling of neglect and inaction at the hands of authorities and aid agencies.
Soetwater, 30 km south of Cape Town, has become home to over 4,000 foreign nationals displaced by South Africa’s recent wave of xenophobic violence. Local media reported that about 100 people, mainly Somali nationals unhappy with their treatment at Soetwater Camp, had threatened to walk into the sea to drown themselves and said four people were already feared dead.
But according to the South African National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), which had deployed three boats to search the waters on June 8, the rumors proved false.
Turns out they didn’t. But, here is the rest of the story. A UN official concludes that the Somalis are just trying to get attention. No, you don’t say.
In a statement released on June 8 by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a South African activist group, called for the immediate closing of the Soetwater Camp where “a tradgedy was unfolding” because the settlement fell far “below international humanitarian standards.”
“There is enormous dissatisfaction at the camp. The conditions are awful: it is cold and insufficiently sheltered – Both the [Western Cape] province and civil society have condemned these camps,” the statement said.
A meeting with UN officials on June 7 at the camp reportedly fueled the incident. “Displaced refugees had several meetings with a representative of the United Nations at the TAC and AIDS Law Project offices in Cape Town. One of these meetings broke down. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the latest crisis is a consequence of this,” the TAC statement said.
According to Yusuf Hassan Abdi, spokesman for the UN High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR), a “rumor had gone round that the UN would start registering people for resettlement in a third country – like the United States, UK, Australia or Canada.”
This was a “major pull factor,” drawing large numbers of Somali refugees to Soetwater. Abdi estimated that the camp now accommodated some 1,800 Somali’s.
But, Abdi said, given recent events and “the large number of refugees and asylum seekers affected, resettlement can not be a priority at this point in time.” He added: “There was no attempted suicide at all – they [the Somalis] used this to get attention.”
For new readers, we have resettled over 80,000 Somalis in the US in recent years. Don’t be surprised if the State Department ultimately says, what’s a few more!