South Africa's refugee population has grown considerably over the last decade. Both food insecurity and mental illness are common in developing countries, but this relationship remains unexamined in an African refugee population. 335 adult refugees in Durban, South Africa were interviewed using a self-report of food insecurity and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25. The proportion of those who responded 'often true' to not having enough food and eating less was 23.1 and 54.3 %, respectively. The proportion of individuals with a significant level of anxiety and depressive symptomatology was 49.4 and 54.6 %, respectively. The adjusted logistic regression indicated that not eating enough was significantly associated with anxiety (aOR = 4.52, 95 % CI: 2.09-9.80) and depression (aOR = 4.51, 95 % CI: 2.01-10.09). Similarly, eating less was significantly associated with anxiety (aOR = 2.88, 95 % CI: 1.56-5.31) and depression (aOR = 2.88, 95 % CI: 1.54-5.39). The high prevalence of food insecurity, and its relationship to mental illness, highlight the importance of addressing basic needs among this population.