COHRE MEDIA RELEASE
More than 100,000 people forcibly evicted from their homes in South Africa through xenophobic attacks: South African government must act immediately to deal with both the causes and consequences of these recent xenophobic attacks says human rights group
The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) is deeply concerned at the recent forced eviction of up to 100 000 people from their homes and residential areas in South Africa through xenophobic attacks. COHRE condemns these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and commends the civil society organisations and individuals that have rushed to assist those affected.
As an international human rights organisation mandated to promote and protect housing rights around the world, COHRE has for several years monitored the shockingly poor housing, water, sanitation and service delivery conditions endured by many South African communities. Jean du Plessis, COHRE’s Deputy Director, said, “We are sympathetic to the growing frustration felt in those communities. Accordingly, we call on the Government of South Africa to deal swiftly and firmly with both the causes and the consequences of the recent attacks.”
Provide adequate shelter and services to displaced persons
COHRE is particularly concerned about the need to provide shelter and services to people displaced as a result of the recent attacks. Urgent steps must be taken to provide adequate and secure shelter and services to those affected. This should be done in a manner which promotes the speedy reintegration of displaced persons into South African society, and which promotes ongoing reconciliation.
The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement requires that authorities:
• Immediately provide assistance and basic needs to affected people;
• Take action to prevent further displacement including investigating the underlying issues motivating the perpetrators; and
• Find sustainable remedies for those displaced.
In addition, displaced persons have a right to return home in safety and dignity, have the damage to their homes repaired, and have destroyed houses restored in accordance with the UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons. Authorities also have a responsibility to facilitate displaced persons’ subsequent integration into their communities.
Avoid segregating and stigmatizing displaced persons
COHRE has learnt with concern of the South African government’s proposal to establish six ‘holding camps’ throughout the country for people driven from their homes.
COHRE’s Du Plessis also said, “It may be true that shelter and services could be provided more easily in the context of a small number of dedicated venues. However, there is a significant danger that placing displaced people in such segregated camps, removed from their communities and livelihood opportunities, could further stigmatize the victims of the violence and undermine their reintegration into South African society.”
COHRE therefore urges the Government to seek local solutions for displaced persons, which can facilitate their voluntary reintegration into communities, rather than segregating them in remote camps.
The obligation to act extends across all Government Departments
Du Plessis added, “COHRE is also concerned about the statement made on 27 May by the South African Minister of Housing, Lindiwe Sisulu, in which she denied that her department had any responsibility to provide housing for ‘foreigners’ displaced by xenophobic attacks. Ms Sisulu laid that task at the door of Disaster Management Services, and claimed that her department lacked sufficient resources to provide housing to South Africans, let alone foreign residents. That position conflicts with International Law, which holds that States have a clear responsibility to protect the basic human rights – including the right to adequate housing and protection against forced eviction – of people residing in their territory. This applies to both lawful and unlawful residing migrants.”
Furthermore, the Department of Housing has both a mandate and the means to play a role in providing housing assistance to affected persons. Chapter 12 of the National Housing Code, entitled “Housing Assistance in Emergency Housing Situations” stipulates that municipalities and provincial government can access assistance in the form of grants from the National Department of Housing in order to “respond rapidly to emergencies by means of land, municipal services infrastructure and shelter.” The Code also states (echoing Principle 28 of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement), that this includes the possible relocation and resettlement of people on a voluntary and cooperative basis.
The principles of the Emergency Housing Programme outlined in the National Housing Code, also clearly state that “where the resettlement of families is required, the alternative location where feasible and practical should be as close as possible to the existing one …” An Emergency exists when the Emergency Housing Steering Committee, on application by a municipality or province, deems that people are affected. The Programme defines an emergency along a number of lines, including when people have been “displaced or threatened with imminent displacement as a result of a state of civil conflict or unrest, or situations where pro-active steps ought to be taken to forestall such consequences.” An emergency is also defined as one where people “live in conditions that pose immediate threats to life, health and safety and require assistance.”
In terms of the Housing Code only one criterion needs to be fulfilled in order for affected persons to qualify for assistance: “[T]he Programme will benefit all affected persons who are not in a position to address their housing emergency from their own resources…” The normal standard qualification criteria, including nationality and marital status, contained in the National Housing Code do not apply. Assistance under the Programme may also be allowed for non-lawful residents.
Du Plessis said, “These are undoubtedly extraordinary circumstances, requiring a combination of compassion and extraordinary action. The violent xenophobic attacks and harassment in South Africa, which have been condemned by the South African Government, demand that all Government departments – including the Department of Housing – act decisively to facilitate the reconciliation and the reintegration of the victims. They should be assisted to re-establish themselves and to live peacefully, as before, in communities of their choice.”
For further details or interviews, contact:
Jean du Plessis, COHRE Deputy Director, on cell +27.825575563