BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Africa
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Alan Little
"Their release could trigger public violence"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
No sanctuary in the new South Africa
Lucas, a refugee from Namibia
Home for Lucas and his 17 dependants
By Bob Howard in Cape Town

When Lucas left Namibia for South Africa he dreamed of living in safety and the chance to earn a reasonable living.

During the apartheid years, it was South Africans who sought sanctuary in other African countries. Now it is other Africans coming to South Africa.

I don't know what those people's problem with me is

Lucas, Namibian refugee
But instead of being welcomed, many are facing a new form of racial hatred: Xenophobia.

Immigrants are often accused of "stealing" local men's jobs.


Lucas was living with other Namibians in a township of Cape Town called Danune when he was forced out by local residents.

Home today for Lucas is a tent on the edge of another township. He says he has an extended family of 17 children to look after and he is close to despair.

"I don't know what those people's problem with me is," he says. "I don't have a life anymore, I look like someone who has died."

Lucas's story is just one of many told to the Cape Town Refugee Forum.

Christina Henda
Henda: The man in this picture was stabbed to death
The forum tries to help refugees apply for political asylum and assist them in their day-to-day living.

But with such a limited budget it is difficult to cover even the basics.

Each month the forum has to pay the funeral expenses of refugees who have died.

This year's budget is unlikely to last until the end of year, so depriving refugees of even the dignity of a decent burial.


Cristina Henda, the forum's co-ordinator, says they face an uphill task in being accepted in South Africa.

"South Africans were never exposed to refugees or economic migrants before. It is very difficult to work due to the high rate of unemployment."

I knew I had to open the doors for them because they had no families, they knew nobody

Nomyugu Falicia Sohena, community leader
Throughout South Africa, the government recognises around 65,000 people as genuine refugees.

The number of economic migrants or those seeking refugee status is not known and could be in the millions.

Not all refugees receive such a harsh reception as that experienced by Lucas.


Nomyugu Falicia Sohena is a community leader in the Cape Town township of Guguletu and the first person in her community to accommodate a refugee in her house.

Nomyugu Falicia Sohena
Nomyugu Falicia Sohena: A warm welcome
"When they came with their stories, I felt very touched. I knew I had to open the doors for them because they had no families, they knew nobody."

Mrs Sohena says as soon as other residents saw that the refugees were good people in desperate need of help they soon offered rooms themselves.

Back in Danune, Lucas is wondering whether he will return to his old home.

The local police say they try to look after the safety of refugees, but their resources are just not adequate in a country which suffers one of the highest crime rates in the world.

"Sweetie Boy" says many people are ashamed
Trying to find anyone in Danune to talk about the hounding out of the refugees proved difficult.

In the end, a man calling himself "Sweetie Boy", who described himself as a community leader, was the only one who would speak:

"They are more than welcome to come back. The only problem is getting back their furniture and their houses. Most of us feel ashamed. They were more than welcome, I don't know what happened."

Given the instability in the countries neighbouring South Africa it is likely that the number of refugees and economic migrants will continue to grow.

If so, it is likely to take all the rainbow nation's goodwill to accommodate them.

The Cape Town Refugee Forum can be contacted at

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

25 Feb 01 | Africa
Mandela steps into racism row
09 Feb 01 | Africa
Warning against 'naked racism'
22 Apr 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
South Africa struggles with its past
30 Aug 00 | Africa
South Africa: Racism runs deep
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories