Hundreds of foreign nationals at the Kerksoord temporary shelter north of Pretoria were seeking answers from the UN and government on Monday after a truckload of “red ant” agents removed their tents.
“They didn’t tell us they [the red ants] were going to do it,” said Jane Senga, one of the vitims of xenophobic attacks earlier this year in South Africa. She is originally from Angola. Senga was packing her belongings while others around her were braiding each other’s hair.
Inside the camp a group of men were playing soccer while another two sat contemplating their next move in a game of checkers. Another old man was strumming a guitar while some passersby complained that they had no food and no water.
Signs outside the camp read: “Stop negrophobic attacks.” Yilmashwa Ketye from Ethiopia said the refugees had not been given food in six days. “In South Africa, the dogs get more respect.”
Ketye said UN and government officials – called “red ants” had earlier offered the refugees three options: reintegration, deportation back to their home countries, or relocation to a safer country. “Eight hundred of us [refugees] didn’t want to go back home, we need that third option”.
Michael Haleyon, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, said his country was “very unsafe”. “We cannot go back home, if we go we will be persecuted, if we stay we will be persecuted.
“We are going to stay here,” he said. Just before 5pm, over an hour after the red ants tore down the tents, the only semi-formal structures that remained were a row of portable toilets. Outside the camp crew from a handful of police vehicles sat watch.
One officer told Sapa he did not anticipate any incidents of violence overnight. There had also been no reports of violence during the day. No government or UN officials were visible on site.