●Cape Town: UNHCR attacks civil society – on role during Xenophobia crisis – ARE THEY INSANE?!


Bloody Marvellous! Read the response to UNHCR attack – endorsed by Mike Louw, Cosatu, ALP, TAC, UCT, MSF, PSAM, HST, ARASA, OUT, RHRU, SWEAT, CSPRI, ALN, SCAT, Sonke Gender Justice plus comments at the end of it


Hi All
The press statement released on Friday 19 September by the UNHCR was an unfounded attack on the role of civil society during the xenophobia crisis. Therefore, it has been necessary to respond to the UNHCR with the release of this joint press statement endorsed by several organisations. Civil society has been unified in condemning the UNHCR statement.
Please read the attached press statement and the attached document which is a list of expenditure during the xenophobia campaign. Although donations were made to TAC, and TAC played a central role in the distribution of humanitarian aid, many other organisations and individuals making up civil society have played a major role throughout.
Scott Dunlop
TAC Communications
021 422 1490
084 719 8258

LINK – To view the expenditure of the xenophobic violence, click here [pdf file]

LINK – UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency]
“The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protects and supports refugees and assists in their return or resettlement.” [UNHCR]

LINK – The article quoting the UNHCR press statement

LINK – TAC refugee status report [pdf file]

LINK – TAC website – you can register & follow the xenophobia links on the left to find out all about the campaign.

LINK – TAC [Treatment Action Campaign]



Tuesday 23 September 2008

On Friday 19 September 2008 the UNHCR office in South Africa released a press statement criticizing the “negative role civil society has played” in the xenophobia crisis since May 2008. The UNHCR press statement was in response to a joint civil society report which, amongst other areas of attention, detailed the failure of the UNHCR to act according to its’ mandate during the crisis.

At the beginning of the crisis civil society recognized the importance of utilizing the expertise and practical support of the UNHCR as the internationally experienced and mandated body in dealing with issues of displacement. With this in mind, many attempts were made to invite the UNHCR to meetings, address concerns to them via correspondence and work together with them.


The UNHCR press statement singles out the AIDS Law Project and TAC for specific criticism, yet at all meetings they have met with all civil society organizations involved in the crisis.

On 3 June 2008 civil society issued a joint appeal to the UNHCR to act according to its’ mandate in assisting displaced people. There was no response.

On 20 June 2008- World Refugee Day- civil society issued a memorandum to the UNHCR addressing the failure of that agency to act during the crisis. There was no response.

The UNHCR issued an undated letter that gave insubstantial information to displaced people.

On 9 July 2008 civil society called for clarification on the undated letter issued by the UNHCR. There was no response.

The UNHCR walked out of one meeting with refugee leadership at Soetwater camp. (Minutes available on request).

The UNHCR has failed to respond to several letters from civil society expressing concerns regarding conditions in camps and issues surrounding repatriation, reintegration and resettlement.

The issues about which civil society is concerned are not frivolous criticism. It is documented that the UNHCR has, amongst other failures during the crisis:

· Observed the horrific conditions in the camps over several months without appropriate intervention.

· Observed a clumsy consolidation process that led to people being exposed to a massive storm and several violations to human rights.

· Have allowed undocumented displaced people to remain vulnerable and without access to the rights enjoyed by those documented people protected by its’ mandate. The UNHCR should have put more pressure on government to provide legal status to those requiring it.

· Delayed processes of repatriation, reintegration and resettlement causing fear, uncertainty and further trauma to displaced people.

· Refused to engage with individual displaced people and not established a team capable of dealing with the magnitude of the crisis. There have been two UNHCR officials in the Western Cape – it is obvious that these individuals cannot adequately monitor the situation.

· Partnered with the Cape Town Refugee Centre, an organization which has also failed miserably in providing support during the crisis. Civil society expressed dismay at this relationship in a formal letter to the UN.

· Failed to critically engage with government on issues relating to the rights of refugees.

· Failed to adequately advise the government on issues related to site planning. One site, Wadeville, had to be closed due to poor planning, and one site, Vickers Road, was never utilised due to a court interdict, obtained by civil society and humanitarian organisations, mandating government not to relocate the displaced there because it was unsuitable and unsafe.

· Supported camp closure, with no reintegration plan. This UNHCR supported plan was ruled against by the Constitutional court.

Civil society organizations have performed the following tasks during the crisis:

Mobilising and distributing vast amounts of humanitarian aid, in terms of food and non-food items to camps and safety sites.

Carrying out continuous site assessments to ascertain the numbers of people requiring humanitarian aid and pinpointing areas where this aid has been insufficient.

Drafted lengthy reports making practical and urgent recommendations to government and the UNHCR.

Monitoring that human rights within the camps and sites have not been compromised, and making recommendations to government and the UNHCR where rights such as protection against violence, food, shelter and dignity have been compromised.

Assisting displaced people by providing access to legal assistance.

Put pressure on government to ensure that displaced people are protected during reintegration.

Consulted with representative refugee leadership throughout the crisis.

Provided legal support, especially the Legal Resources Centre, in the form of advice, written moratoriums, affidavits and other legal documents, direct intervention where displaced people have been arrested and consultatively when civil society has at all times intended to operate within the framework of South African law.

Khayelitsha TAC assisted people with reintegration, TAC also sheltered people at two sites and fed and clothed people during the crisis, spending 3 million Rand on humanitarian relief. (See attached list).

Civil society calls on the UNHCR to produce their own report documenting their involvement during the crisis and their claimed adherence to international principles and human rights law. This report must indicate the exact movements of their local staff, their attendance at meetings, actions taken, and recommendations given to government. Civil society also calls on the international office of the UNHCR to instigate an inquiry into the actions and inactions of the South African office during the crisis.[BIZLINKS highlited]


CosatuDisplaced Refugee NetworkTracey Saunders, VolunteerSonke Gender Justice NetworkSocial Justice CoalitionTreatment Action Campaign

AIDS Law Project

Joint Refugee Leadership Committee of the Western Cape

Legal Resources Centre

For Further comment or details, call:
Scott Dunlop, Communications TAC Xenophobia Task Team
084 719 8258
(021) 422 1490


The JCSMF noted the inadequate role played by UNHCR in upholding its mandate to protect refugees in South Africa. The UNHCR has consistently abdicated its responsibility and has supported government policies that negatively impact on refugee protection – including but not limited to the issue of camp closure. UNHCR has not adequately consulted and communicated with the displaced, which has resulted in misplaced policy and operational decisions. The JCSMF calls on UNHCR to uphold its mandate and to critically engage with government (in consultation with the displaced and civil society) on matters impacting on refugee protection.

Joint Civil Society Monitoring Forum:

(All founding members present at the meeting endorsed these resolutions: ALP, TAC UCT, MSF, PSAMAlso endorsed by HST, ARASA, OUT, RHRU, SWEAT, CSPRI, ALN, SCAT, Sonke Gender Justice)

“In the four months since the first camps were opened, very little has changed in Cape Town. People are still being housed in leaking tents in beach camp sites which are exposed to the harsh weather conditions .Nutritional needs of babies, infants and children are still not being met. Access to education and health facilities is limited. There is no assurance of security and meaningful dialogue with government has been so pitiful that it is hardly worth mentioning. People are still despondent and signs of trauma are still evident. The one thing that has changed is that the constant pleas I initially heard for intervention by the UNHCR have become inaudible. Not only have displaced foreign nationals lost hope in the South African government but they have also lost hope in the international body that is mandated to protect them.

I can’t help but draw a parallel between the UNHCR’s role and the tents that they have provided. Neither has offered any protection. The tents lie strewn around the camp site at Blue Waters .Those that are still standing are leaking.They have been as insubstantial and meaningless as the constant assurance provide by the UNHCR that all is well and the crisis is being addressed adequately”.

Tracey Saunders – Independent volunteer.

“What “negative impact”? If it was not for TAC,ALP and others the displaced would have been at the absolute mercy of an agency that up till today has still not displayed the ability to resolve the problem. Who co-ordinated and provided humanitarian relief from day one when all the UNHCR was concerned about was the protocols to be adhered to for fear of embarrassing the state? This conformity with its mandate is obviously not what was required at the time given the unique nature of the situation. The UNHCR must take full responsibility for the negative impression that currently prevails amongst volunteers and foreign nationals which is due to their own inadequate response and seeming buckling to the dictates of the state rather than the needs of the victims”.

Mike Louw, Cosatu

LINK – To view the expenditure of the xenophobic violence, click here [pdf file]

LINK – UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency]
“The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protects and supports refugees and assists in their return or resettlement.” [UNHCR]

LINK – The article quoting the UNHCR press statement

LINK – TAC refugee status report [pdf file]

LINK – TAC website – you can register & follow the xenophobia links on the left to find out all about the campaign.

LINK – TAC [Treatment Action Campaign]

●For all the posts/entries on this blog that are about xenophobia you can click on the word XENOPHOBIA in the category cloud in the side bar [right column] – at the top or you can. . . . . click here

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