For Africa Day: Voices from the Camps

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa today launched a series of five powerful video testimonies from refugees and migrants displaced by April’s wave of xenophobic violence in Durban, KwaZulu Natal to displacement camps set up by local authorities.

We have taken the decision to publicise the series via our website in the hope that it further exposes our audiences to the harsh reality of life as a “kwerekwere” in South Africa: persistent xenophobia that leads to healthcare exclusion, a denial of protection and unpredictable violence from friends and neighbours.

Our objective is to make their stories visible to South Africans and to encourage people to learn about the daily life-threatening challenges that vulnerable foreign nationals face.

Kate Ribet. MSF

One month into its medical humanitarian intervention in following a series of violent xenophobic attacks in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal (KZN) province, a team from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is reorienting their work to meet the psychological needs of traumatized foreign nationals sheltering in the single remaining displacement camp, as well as offering medical support in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

The Chatsworth camp, south of the coastal city of Durban, is currently home to 520 foreign nationals – mostly refugees and asylum seekers from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were left behind after more than 3,000 Malawians alone, as well as several hundred Mozambicans and Zimbabweans were repatriated to their home countries.

Initially about 7,000 people sought refuge in three different displacement camps in Durban. The Burundians and Congolese are now stuck in limbo: they cannot be repatriated to conflict zones they fled from but they don’t feel safe to re-integrate into communities that they fled from only weeks before.

Video # 1: The story of Elvira Modesero

Today's video features a heart-breaking interview with Burundian nurse and refugee Elvira Modesero, who remains in the camp today.

Elvira came to South Africa in 2004, after fleeing ongoing civil conflict in Burundi. She studied nursing at the University of KwaZulu Natal, and currently works at St Mary’s missionary hospital, Pinetown, Mariannhill. After a wave of xenophobic attacks hit KwaZuluNatal, Elvira and her family fled their home in Chatsworth, Durban, to seek refuge in one of three displacement camps, along with nearly 6,000 other foreign nationals.

As of today, Elvira is still in Chatsworth camp, having taken an extended leave of absence; her husband is an unemployed teacher. She remains uncertain about her future in South Africa, too scared to return to her Durban home, and unable to go back to strife-hit Burundi.

READ Elvira’s story in full via GroundUp

Video # 2: The story of Amuri Djuma

Amuri Djuma came to South Africa in 2004, leaving behind conflict in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. He first worked as barber, then branched into carpentry as a trade. Later Amuri opened a furniture store and hairdressing business, which employed South Africans.

During a wave of xenophobic attacks in Durban, Amuri’s shop was looted and 80% of his stock was stolen. With very little left, Amuri still hopes to rebuild his life in Durban.

Video # 3: The story of Martin Katana

Martin Katana first arrived in Durban in 2006, having fled ongoing civil conflict in DRC in 2006. Until April 2015, he lived with his wife Digne Irakoze and their six-month old daughter Mika in Chatsworth suburb. They have experienced xenophobia in most aspects of their lives: taxis, shops, hospitals.

After a series of xenophobic attacks swept across Durban, he brought his family to relative safety in Chatsworth camp, set up by local authorities after around 6,000 foreign nationals were displaced.

Camp life is difficult; baby Mika is constantly sick and with little in the way of resettlement packages, and few prospects of employment despite refugee status, Martin worries daily about his family’s future.

Watch his story here...

You can still achieve anything if you are alive, you need to focus on what is next.

Video # 4: The Story of Steven Mware

Steven Mware came to South Africa from Malawi in 2010, and had never been ‘home’ to see his family until April 2015, when he was one of 3,000 Malawians repatriated from Durban. Steven had been working for a non-profit organisation taking care of people with disabilities. As a part-time pastor, he became the de-facto leader of the Malawians who were destined for repatriation.

On the night of 16 April, he was warned by friends to leave his home in Chatsworth, Durban, as it was about to be attacked. Together with another local pastor, they hurriedly packed his possessions and fled to a nearby displacement camp, set up by local authorities.

Once things have ‘quietened down’, Steven plans to return to South Africa, as he is still owed a salary, and wants to continue providing for his family.

Video # 5: The Story of Dolly Makwakwa

9 year-old Dolly Makwakwa was born in South Africa back in 2006 to a mother from Mozambique. Yet xenophobic violence displaced them both, disrupting their lives. In April Dolly, her single mother, Gloria Makwakwa, and two siblings, fled to the Chatsworth displacement camp with hundreds of other foreign nationals, after a spate of xenophobic attacks across the city.

Mozambican-born Gloria came to South Africa as a young woman with no family links ‘back home’ after her parents died.

By now Dolly has already missed seven weeks of school. She misses her friends and teachers terribly. Dolly like many of the other 300 children in the Chatsworh camp don’t understand xenophobia – but they bear the brunt all the same.

Their plea is for an end to xenophobic violence and unity among Africans.

We are asking South Africans to help stop xenophobia and commit to showing #Solidarity4Survival by sharing these stories.

Kate Ribet, MSF

A new video in the series will be added daily.


This article first appeared on 702 : For Africa Day: Voices from the Camps


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