Deportation is immigrants’ big fear after Jika Joe fire

Some of the immigrants who lost their homes to last week’s Jika Joe fire fear they will be deported if they go to the shelters provided by the municipality.

This comes after the City moved the hundreds of victims of the fire to the AF Wood Centre on Boom Street and the homeless shelter at Mayor’s Walk on Friday night. They had been sleeping outside or in makeshift structures made from scraps since the blaze wiped out about 500 shacks on Wednesday.

A handful of foreign nationals stayed behind in makeshift shacks because they feared Msunduzi would call the emigration department and they would be sent back to their home countries.

READ MORE | Jika Joe shack fire victims rebuild with burnt scraps

Yesterday, some told The Witness that they lost their passports during Wednesday’s fire but others said theirs burned during the blaze that erupted in March which also gutted dozens of shacks at Jika Joe.

John, who refused to give his surname, said: 

I heard that the officials from Home Affairs are going to come and assist those who lost their identity documents but I know they can’t do anything for someone like me. The government is not allowing me to stay in this country with no papers and I can’t even prove who I am because I lost my passport and the certified copies.

He said he was originally from Malawi and has lived in Jika Joe since 2017. He had been earning a living as a waste picker even though he previously worked as a supermarket storeroom manager when he was in Malawi.

Some of the affected foreign nationals came from countries such as Ethiopia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. One of them said he had been begging his ex-girlfriend to give him copies of his passport that he had given to her for safekeeping while they were together.

“This is my fourth fire so after the first one I made several copies and gave them to my girlfriend at the time. I called her on Friday and she said she has them but she hasn’t brought them to me,” he said yesterday.

Some Jika Joe residents are currently staying at the AF Wood Centre on Boom Street until they rebuild their shacks.

Meanwhile, those at the AF Wood Hall were in limbo about how long they would be staying there. Some were also worried about how their children would get to school today as the municipality had not briefed them since their relocation on Friday. They said some of the kids were starting their exams this week and they did not even have books to study with or school uniforms. “Those of us on chronic medication are also defaulting because we’ve not taken in since Wednesday.

“There are also people who are asthmatic here and they lost their pumps in the fire. We can’t go to the clinic because we don’t even have masks so they won’t let us in,” said Nelisiwe Dlamini.

There was also a concern about the lack of sanitary pads, detergents and even hand sanitisers as these had not been provided. While baby formula and diapers were given to them, the mothers said they were not enough. There were also issues with the food as the donors were only able to feed them breakfast and supper. “At least they must give children lunch,” said one of the mothers.

They also appealed to Msunduzi to get the Department of Home Affairs to fast track their applications for identity documents so that they could get new Sassa cards before next week’s social grants payouts.

Msunduzi spokesperson, Thobeka Mafumbatha, said the meeting between the stakeholder departments, including the human settlement, would be held today. “All those that were affected by the fire will be supported with building material ... We are appealing to donors to come forward and assist with things such as school uniforms, books and so forth. We would like to thank those who have already come forward to lend a helping hand,” she said.

• nokuthula.ntuli@witness.co.za
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