Displaced foreigners camp at Durban City Hall demanding help

2008-07-11 00:00

A group of Congolese displaced people have been left homeless after they were evicted from a local street shelter and have now sought refuge at the Durban City Hall.

Four people, including a heavily pregnant woman, were attacked and beaten up by a security guard.

The group were evicted from the shelter in Broad Street after the city stopped paying for their accommodation.

Some foreigners moved to the city hall, where they demanded a proper campsite and food, while others went to the old SPCA building in Cato Manor. However, contract workers demolishing the building threatened them with hammers and other weapons.

Durban Action against Xenophobia spokeswoman Alice Thomson said that on June 4, several local churches met with representatives of the provincial government, who promised they would set up a campsite and assist with food and proper healthcare. There were several generous donations of food and clothing, but the camp never materialised. “All the hard work was left to the churches and non-governmental organisations. The people had no place to sleep and this was a huge problem for us,” she said.

Thomson said that on June 25, 156 people were told to leave a church in which they were staying. They camped at the city hall until the municipality arranged for them to live at the Broad Street shelter.

A spokesman for the displaced people, Hulubatu Akyamba, said city officials told them to stay at the shelter until a site was found.

“Then we were told that the disaster management team could not help us. They said that we had to find our own accommodation, but we don’t have any money,” he said.

He said that many have considered returning to their local communities, but are terrified of being attacked. Attempts by displaced people to open cases against their attackers have failed on several occasions. “Xenophobia is still alive. The violence against us has not stopped, but the authorities fail to see that. Even the police refuse to help us,” he said.

Pierre Matate of the Durban Refugee Council said: “These refugees should be handed over to government who has the capacity to deal with them. This is a serious matter and should be resolved immediately.”

He said there is a lot of denial of the problem by the municipality and shifting of responsibility to various departments.

The displaced people want government to set up a camp according to international standards or, failing that, to invite the UN to set up such a camp as an interim measure before people can be safely re-integrated or settled in another country.

They also want intensified efforts of social workers from the Provincial Department of Social Development towards preparing South African communities for the reintegration of refugees.

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