Some DRC refugees flee, only to return to Durban

2008-08-11 00:00

Some Congolese people who were returned to their country after xenophobic attacks across South Africa went on shopping sprees in Durban before they left. After delivering the pots, bicycles and other goods they took with them to family and friends in Congo, they were back in Durban within two or three days.

Sources close to caregivers who have attempted to help the 166 displaced people living in tents in Albert Park said the situation is complex and volatile.

While there are genuine needs among the group that includes 38 women and 75 children, there are also opportunists who are giving the refugees a bad name.

One woman caregiver at Albert Park, who describes the situation as “scary”, agreed that there are two sides to the story.

The eThekwini Municipality, which has washed its hands of the situation and is now threatening to take down the tents, has described the inhabitants as “arrogant and demanding”.

The tent-dwellers have described city officials as the same. The caregiver warned that the aid given to the Congolese has already created a stand-off between them and a group of homeless Tanzanians who have lived in the park for some time.

She said the Tanzanians do not have the comfort of tents and have had to put up with the municipality cutting water supplies to the park to try to displace them. However, while the Tanzanians go without, the Congolese are given water daily by religious organisations.

A Congolese man living in Albert Park told The Witness that people also bring food once or twice a week.

He said they are waiting for someone to bring them money so they can buy houses and replace goods lost in the violence. They do not want to return to either their own country or to the places where they lived previously, he said.

Another caregiver said that while some of the Tanzanians, who do casual jobs in Durban harbour and are masters of petty crime in the area “jumped on the bandwagon” at the height of the xenophobic attacks, most now keep their distance.

She agreed that there is potential for conflict. Similar inter-group conflicts have exploded in Gauteng.

Congolese make up most of the 317 displaced nationals spread across six sites in KZN. They are mostly refugees or documented asylum seekers. The group sought refuge at the Durban City Hall after being evicted from a hotel in Durban where they had been accommodated.

Metro police dispersed the group using tear gas. Many were injured in the incident and the group took refuge in Albert Park.

According to the latest U.S. “Situation Report on Violence Against Foreigners in South Africa”, the number of displaced people stands at 12 297 across 72 sites countrywide. Gauteng accounts for 6 689 in 12 sites and in the Western Cape there are 5 291 people in 54 sites.

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