Page last updated at 18:41 GMT, Thursday, 29 May 2008 19:41 UK

SA province seeks disaster status

Foreigners at an informal gathering point in the centre of Cape Town, South Africa, 28 May 2008
The Cape Town mayor wants local government to co-ordinate relief

South Africa's Western Cape is to ask for parts of the province to be declared a disaster zone in the wake of recent anti-foreigner violence.

The provincial government also asked for UN help in dealing with the crisis.

UN and Red Cross figures suggest more than 70,000 foreigners fled the attacks which began earlier this month, with 33,000 fleeing to neighbouring nations.

The government has said it is working to provide shelters of a limited size, to lessen health and security risks.

"We should try and avoid setting up large camps that consist of shelters (for) thousands of people," said government spokesman Themba Maseko.

Aid agencies are also pushing for a disaster zone to be declared around Johannesburg in Gauteng province, where the anti-foreigner attacks began.

Most of the immigrants are still sheltering in community halls, churches and police stations and some are sleeping out in the open.

In Gauteng, police clashed with mainly Somali migrants as they fought with other foreigners in a relief camp near the capital, Pretoria.

The migrants blocked and attacked other foreigners trying to make their way from a makeshift camp to a new, tented camp, the Pretoria News reported.

The police fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd in the camp after stones were thrown at a police vehicle.

A police spokesman told the BBC one officer was injured.

Beach camps

In a detailed account the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) says that more than 38,000 foreigners are displaced inside the country, at sites in the provinces of Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape.

Mozambicans on a train leaving South Africa
South Africa: about 38,000
Gauteng: 17,548
Western Cape: 19,654
KwaZulu Natal: 1,650-1,750
Figures from Ocha
Mozambique: 32,082
Malawi: 500
Zimbabwe: 123
Figures from the Red Cross

In the Western Cape, Premier Ebrahim Rasool said the provincial government was negotiating with the UN to get resources for displaced people.

He said the province wanted "decentralised, community-based" accommodation for migrants to replace beach camps.

Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille said that declaring parts of the province a disaster zone would free up resources and allow the local government to co-ordinate relief.

The mayor's spokesman, Robert Macdonald, told the BBC about 20,000 people had been displaced in the city.

The UN has said it is already helping South Africa plan relief efforts, conducting surveys of the conditions in the police stations and municipal halls in which the displaced people are living.

Meanwhile, foreigners are continuing to flee the country.

The Red Cross says that around 33,000 have fled South Africa to neighbouring countries.

Kenya was to repatriate 64 of its citizens on Thursday, while the Zimbabwe embassy is helping 700 of its citizens who have asked to go home.


The unrest, targeting migrants from Zimbabwe and other African countries, began in a township north of Johannesburg earlier this month.

More than 50 people have been killed and more than 650 injured in the attacks, according to officials.

Resentment against foreigners who are seen to be harder working and better educated than locals have been cited as factors fuelling the violence, as has social inequality.

In a statement on Thursday the government acknowledged "the urgent need to accelerate its programmes for alleviating poverty, unemployment and other forms of socio-economic deprivation".

It also appealed to communities "to reject any agitation from those who wish to reduce this country into a lawless country".


Migrants describe conditions inside one of the shelters

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