Locals step up to help those with nowhere to go

2015-05-11 07:57
Cyril Vezi at the Chatsworth camp set up to house thouse fleeing xenophobic violence.

Cyril Vezi at the Chatsworth camp set up to house thouse fleeing xenophobic violence. (Jonathan Erasmus)

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THE last remaining shelter for victims of xenophobic violence in Chats­worth, Durban, may be open for many more months as authorities struggle to house mainly Burundi and Congolese nationals.

The provincial government initially had four shelters; three in Durban and one in Pietermaritzburg.

Most of the refugees in these camps have either moved back into their communities or returned to their countries of origin but about 1 000 people who fled to the ­Chatsworth during last month’s­ ­xenophobic attacks have neither home nor country to return to.

Chatsworth camp manager Bheki Ngwengwe said while the United ­Nations has stepped in to help document the foreign nationals displaced last month, but warned “it is going to be a long process,”

Democratic Republic of Congo refugee Solange Lamge said returning home is simply not an option. “There is fighting back home. I can’t return. I have four children. We must stay but I don’t know where to go,” she said.

Ngwengwe said at least 15 people or groups were helping these homeless refugees with donate goods every day.

Red Cross disaster management boss Cyril Vezi provides three meals a day. With just six volunteers working the kitchen, he said catering for the large and religiously diverse group comes with several challenges.

“The numbers fluctuate daily.

“We also have a large number of Muslim residents so we have simply made sure all the food is Halaal.

“We insist on cooking everything on site for the simple reason we cannot run the risk of feeding the group meals which we are uncertain of in case, for example, the meat is off, because then we would have a serious problem on our hands if people got sick,” said Vezi.

Amid all the hardship various groups, many unknown small community collectives, have stepped forward. One such group is an NGO called Uthando Lwezize, mainly made up of small businessmen, who brought about R3 000 worth of basic staple food.

Chairperson Elijah Tbabethe said while they have committed to bring more as and when they can, they would lobby the Department of Correctional Services to lend support. “They have the experience in reintegrating people back into communities. They have the specialist skills. We are hoping to meet with them and bring them on board to assist our fellow Africans find acceptance within the same communities from which they ran,” said Tbabethe.

But at least one refugee would rather not have to be reminded of the attacks. Fourteen-year-old Delege ­Kabiya, who has missed school for weeks, recounted the harrowing afternoon when he and fellow countrymen were chased from their homes in the Durban Berea.

“I was walking home from school as normal when I just saw other Congolese people running. Behind them were men with knives. We just left everything and ran. My parents are not comfortable with how we are living now, but we don’t know what we are going to do or where we will go,” he said. — Witness Reporter

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