The safety camps set up in Gauteng Province to house victims displaced in South Africa's xenophobic attacks were due to close on 15 August, but an application for urgent interim relief brought by a small group of foreign nationals, due to be heard by the Constitutional Court on 18 August, has given them a reprieve.
Adele Nyambi, 28, a Mozambican national living in the Rand Airport camp in Germiston, outside Johannesburg, sells eggs and biscuits to earn an income. "I have not packed my bags, I want to stay here. I want compensation from the government," she said.
The High Court in the capital, Pretoria, on 12 August upheld the Gauteng provincial government's decision to dismantle the shelters. "I do not have anywhere to go and I will be killed if I go into the townships, the South Africans hate us," Nyambi said.
Foreign nationals Odinga Mamba, Vasco Mitabele, Kiza Milinga Issa and Davidzo Aabidah Maduviko, from the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, then filed an appeal in the Constitutional Court.
According to media reports, the applicants asked the Constitutional Court to draw up and publish a plan for reintegration of the victims of xenophobic violence within 30 days, and that the government be ordered to implement it within 60 days. Late on 18 August the court was still deliberating whether it should entertain the appeal.
As word spread that the camps would not be closed on 15 August, many migrants heaved a sigh of relief. "They have removed the toilets and the police trucks are waiting to deport us," said one migrant. Police and immigration officials began to disperse on the news that the camp would stay open.
More than 60 people were killed, hundreds were injured, and nearly 20,000 migrants from neighbouring countries were displaced in a wave of xenophobia that began in May 2008, in Gauteng, South Africa's richest province, and spread throughout the country.
An estimated 6,000 migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, have been housed in the camps. "The numbers have since declined and we are still updating the figures," said Mantshele Tau, a spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs.
He said the department had taken steps to help fast-track applications for refugee status by camps residents. "Some of them were found to illegal and due process is taking place to deport them, while some have qualified for refugee status and will be reintegrated into South African society."
Raymond Moyo from Zimbabwe, who had been housed in the Rifle Range camp outside Johannesburg, said his application for asylum had been declined. "There is no reasonable belief that persecution will occur if you return to your country," read a letter signed by a Refugee Status Determination Officer from the Department of Home Affairs.
The letter states that he has 30 days to lodge an appeal, but he says he will not do so because he has no money and feels the government just does not want Zimbabweans in South Africa. He said he had nowhere to go and did not know what to do.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is supporting all asylum seekers and undocumented Zimbabweans who would like to reintegrate into local communities through an assistance programme implemented by its partner, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). The non-governmental organisation (NGO) is conducting individual and family needs assessments aimed at providing limited financial support to refugees and asylum seekers.
But Alfred Sambo, 25, from Mozambique, has decided it is time to go home. "I have washed and packed my clothes, I want to go to Mozambique. Some people want to go back to the shacks [in the townships] but I want to go home rather than die in the hands of South Africans."
Jonathan Whittall, programmes director with the NGO, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said his organisation had been providing medical services and counselling. "People in here are insecure; we will continue to work in the camps. People are concerned and extremely worried about where to go."