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South Africa: World Cup shines a spotlight on refugees and migrants
15 July 2010

Refugees, a little more secure because of the World Cup, Pretoria, South Africa (Peter Balleis SJ/ JRS)
Johannesburg, 14 July 2010 – Sixty games on, three million spectators and billions of US dollars better, South Africa feels rehabilitated in the eyes of the world. Many believe that a combination of wide media coverage, some early police response and the consciousness that the world is looking on has left at least some refugees feeling safer than they did two years ago.

“Despite persistent and intensifying rumours of xenophobic attacks, fears of a repeat of the May 2008 attacks that left 62 people dead and 100,000 displaced have not been realised. Even though there have been isolated attacks and loots, as yet there has been no widespread displacement”, said JRS Southern Africa Director, David Holdcroft SJ.

“But the very presence of these threats points to another reality in South Africa, one that rarely appeared in World Cup coverage. Like many emerging societies South Africa is a long way from being a truly inclusive society. But the last month has demonstrated it has made huge strides. It is vital that this progress not be undermined now”, continued Fr Holdcroft.

Real progress is slow

In the last six weeks, the main road to Zimbabwe has been laden with refugees and migrants, as people reacted to the rumours and threats. Although the police minister, Nathi Mthetwa, claims the flight of Zimbabweans is a normal course of events marking the end of the seasonal labour season, the government was sufficiently concerned to convene an inter-ministerial committee to look at the phenomenon, while at the same time ordering its army to stand by in case of outbreaks.

“Such measures demonstrate that South Africa is approaching some of its problems with greater maturity than two years ago”, added Fr Holdcroft.

In one informal settlement, JRS staff were asked to supply money to a proposed neighbourhood watch to protect local foreign shopkeepers. The implication was that, if they didn't, those shopkeepers would be in grave danger, probably from the very people 'volunteering' for the watch.

Community negotiations have begun in many settlements, some brokered by the government, others by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and NGOs such as JRS. At the same time the police, acting on intelligence, have been proactively making arrests in some areas.

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Mr James Stapleton
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