WATCH | ‘We are people as well’ - Cape Town refugees want to be heard on World Refugee Day

  • A group of some 800 refugees living in a resettlement camp in Kensington want the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to move them to a safer country.
  • Tilda Wilondja, who fled the DRC with her family as a 10-year-old girl, wants the world to know that refugees are people too.
  • According to the UNHCR, there are 26 million refugees around the world.

Some 26 million refugees are being honoured on World Refugee Day on 20 June. The UN has described it as a day that offers a chance to raise awareness of the plight of refugees around the world and of the efforts to protect their human rights.     

News24 visited a group of refugees in Cape Town to find out what this day means to them. 

Facing alleged discrimination and xenophobic attacks in their communities, the group camped outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the Cape Town CBD. Refugee families were looking for assistance to be moved to a safer country. 

After clashes between the refugees and the City of Cape Town, the group found shelter in the Central Methodist Church in Green Market Square. 

Under South Africa's coronavirus lockdown, the displaced families were moved to isolation sites in Bellville and the Wingfield Military site in Kensington. 

Cape Town Refugee
A man sleeps on a mattress, with his belongings scattered around him.
News24 Bertram Malgas
Cape Town refugee
A father washes his son outside the refugee camp in Cape Town.
News24 Bertram Malgas
 Cape Town refugee
Sion Kanza, from the DRC, is a qualified tiler and painter. He has been unemployed for the past two years.
News24 Bertram Malgas

Tilda Wilondja and her family are among the group living in the refugee resettlement camp in Kensington. Here they share the space with almost 800 other people, seeking shelter from the coronavirus. 

"It's so cold here, it's like staying in a freezer. Staying here has not been a good experience. There are people from different walks of life and we are all in one place. No knows what the future holds for us here," Wilondja said.

"I think they moved us here to hide the fact that we are like this and they can't help us. Because there is no social distancing here," she added. 

The 27-year-old said she wanted to use World Refugee Day to make here voice heard. 

"It's a day for us, and it's an opportunity to tell my story. It's a day to make the world know that refugees are people as well," she said. 

Father of two, Daff Milambo, from the DRC, said he did not believe the plight of refugees was considered by the South African government. 

"Refugees are really forgotten. The South African government treats us like we are animals," he said.

He, like many in the camp, have experienced xenophobic attacks in the communities they were staying in. 

"The government tells us that we need to get reintegrated into the communities, but those communities are not ready for us," he said. 

Cape Town refugee
Mudabon ‘Champion’ Mudimba, with his wife and three of his five children. Mudimba is a heavyweight boxing champion. He fought and won several fights in South Africa.
Cape Town refugee
Daff Milambo with is family. Milambo was studying law, before he fled the DRC.
Cape Town refugee
Francis Misimbo is a father of four daughters.

On Saturday, Milambo will use the day of recognition to teach his family about who they are. 

"That day we will express ourselves, to show people what is happening here in South Africa," Milambo said.

"That is the day I would like to enjoy with my family, trying to explain to them what a refugee is. They are the future of tomorrow." 

As Cape Town's refugee community battles to survive each day, displaced families remain hopeful that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will offer them support to build a better life.

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