Foreign refugees stuck in Chatsworth camp

2015-05-10 06:00
Picture: Matthew Middleton

Picture: Matthew Middleton

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More than a month after fleeing their homes during xenophobic attacks, 700 Congolese and Burundian refugees are still stuck in a refugee camp in Chatsworth, Durban and are unable to return to their old neighbourhoods. 

United Nations High Commission for Refugees senior field coordinator Acacio Juliao on Saturday said “almost all” of those they processed at Chatsworth his week said they wanted to go to another country. The refugees, who had asked to be resettled in countries including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Canada, would only be moved if all other attempts to reintegrate them in South Africa failed, Juliao said. 

“We are not considering relocation to third party countries different from their country of origin or country of asylum ... exclusively as a solution to the xenophobic attacks,” Juliao said. 

“While we agree that there are still places that people cannot return to, there is still room for foreigners to continue to live in South Africa. We are getting [information] from government that there are communities where foreigners have been accepted back. There are others where there is still resistance.” 

Burundian national Vitalis Nshimirimama, who fled his flat in Albert Park the day of the Durban anti-xenophobia march, wants out of South Africa, but he can’t go home. 

A survivor of the 2008 xenophobic violence – Nshimirimama was almost beaten to death after being attacked in Durban’s Moore Road – he is hoping the UN will move him. 

“I can’t stay here. I saw one of the guys who tried to kill me six months ago. They thought I was dead and they left me in the road. I reported it to police at Broad Street. They [the police] were Zulus. They wouldn’t open the case. If I stay here, they will kill me. I have to go,” he said. 

eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said the camp would remain in operation as long as the refugees could not return home. 

“There is no indication yet that the camp will close. We have a responsibility to provide shelter to those who are still seeking refuge. We want to fast-track their reintegration rather than put pressure on them by closing the shelter,” Mthethwa said. 

She said the city was waiting for government and the UN for direction about how to assist those who could not be reintegrated. 

Security in the camp has tightened significantly following the arrival of the Congolese and Burundians, many of whom had resisted the move from Isipingo. The civilian volunteers who had in effect run the camp since it was set up in first week of the attacks have pulled out, with the exception of the Red Cross. Members of the public continued to deliver food, clothing and other essentials to the camp throughout the week.

Read more on:    refugees

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