Durban Action Against Xenophobia

July 12, 2008

3am 12 July Message from Kathleen

Filed under: Updates — durbancrisis @ 8:42 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s 3am. I can’t sleep because of what we’ve seen and heard tonight.

This evening, we went to Albert Park to see what we could do. The refugees said that two women were injured. So we offered to take them to hospital. I’ll call these women Sophie and Marie (not their real names). Sophie’s two young sons came with her to our car. There was no room for them and the other refugees assured Sophie they would look after her sons until her return. Sophie was moaning and unable to walk. “Who did this?” I asked the boys in my rusty French? “The police”.

Sophie and Marie moaned softly as we drove to McCord hospital. When we arrived, we were glad we’d opted for McCord’s as the staff treated the two women with great care and compassion. The nurses were shocked to hear it was the police who has assaulted them. Marie’s hands were cut and swollen and severely bruised. She told me that the police had slammed her hands closed in the van door when they were manhandling the refugees into the van to take them to Albert Park. The doctor said that Marie’s hands will be painful for the next six weeks. She also diagnosed her with a chest infection – likely the result of her recent living conditions (many of the refugees are coughing). The doctor told Marie to drink at least a litre of clean water a day to prevent a kidney infection. When I translated this for her, she said “Where will I get water in the park?” I didn’t have an answer.

The doctor who treated Sophie said that she had sustained damage to the ligament of her knee and that she had blood on her knee. She moaned as he drained the blood off her knee. The doctor said she’ll need to use crutches for two weeks and that she’ll be in a lot of pain.

While we were waiting for Sophie, Maire told me a little about her experiences in South Africa. She said that she’s been here for 3 1/2 years and that she has eked out a living selling goods on the roadside. She told a story of constant police harassment of her as a “foreigner” and how she had to keep paying the police “taxes” to be allowed to stay in business. Marie recounted an incident where she was picked up by the police for being a foreigner. They threw her goods on the ground and took her to the Broad Street police station. At the station, they wrote out a long statement in English and told her to sign it. She explained to them that she didn’t really understand English and asked for a French translation. They took her by the throat and crushed her windpipe and forced her thumb onto an ink pad and onto the statement. She couldn’t eat for 4 days afterwards because of the damage to her throat.

When we took Marie and Sophie back to the park, the refugees were huddled together under blankets. A UN rep was there talking to some of them. We told Marie and Sophie we’d be back in the morning with some medicine. We said we were sorry and we came home and tried to sleep.

I don’t know what’s happening in the park right now. I just hope it’s nothing too bad.

I know that all of us in the this group lead busy, demanding lives and that many people have already given so much time and effort to this refugee crisis. I know that’s it’s exhausting and depressing. But, if you can, please let people know what is happening – phone or write to the media and anyone you know you might be able to publicise this issue or offer some humanitarian assistance. If you can, please go to Albert Park tomorrow and ask the refugees how they are and how they think this situation could be alleviated – I think just giving people a chance to talk about what’s been happening is valuable.

Kathleen

11 July – Refugees dumped in Albert Park

Filed under: Updates — durbancrisis @ 8:41 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Its Friday night. Its cold. It looks a bit like rain.
Somewhere in the dark in Albert Park are about 120 refugees, mostly women and young children.

Its been a long day. We’ve phoned all the numbers. We’ve called in all the favours. We talked through all the angles.
Its late and we (we who already had breakfast and lunch today) are hungry.
Its late and we (we who have homes) want to go home.
There is no good outcome.
Somewhere in the dark in Albert Park are about 120 refugees, mostly women and young children.

These are not young jobseekers from Mozambique and Malawi, doing the African renaissance equivalent of a post-degree work holiday in London. These are documented refugees from the worst civil war of the last decade – a war that has already claimed 4 million lives. A war, as Human Rights Watch has already documented, funded in part by South African mining companies paying warlords in the Congo for the right to plunder the local mineral wealth. These are people who escaped with their lives after their families and communities had been destroyed.

These are capable entrepreneurs who want only an opportunity to live in peace. No Mike Sutcliff, they don’t want the handouts you claim you cannot give them. They just want to be safe. They just want to not be murdered for having committed the offence of already being so desperate that they are prepared to work even harder for even less pay the people around them. They just want the world to not suddenly again turn into an insane nightmare that tries to destroy them. They just want to war to be over.

We don’t understand, they say. We thought there were human rights in South Africa.

I don’t understand either.

Six weeks ago they were attacked. They fled to church. There they waited while KZN province promised to set up a shelter. Nothing happened. Eventually the church left them on the steps of the city hall. The city dumped some them in what had been the old SPCA building. No food. No electricity. Then they evicted them. They were offered 3 days accommodation in a shelter in town. Then they were evicted. They went to the city hall. They were assaulted by city security. The slept outside the city hall. This afternoon police came and loaded them into vans, telling them they were being taken to Albert Park to meet with officials to organise their accommodation. It was a lie to get them into the vans without causing a public spectacle. There were no officials at Albert Park. There was nothing at Albert Park. There is nothing at Albert Park. Nothing except 120 refugees, mostly women and children.

Sipho is quiet but looks visibly upset. He lives a block away. He warns us about the gang that operates on the other side of the park.
I’m worried about the women and children, he says, its not safe here.
We hear stories of murder and rapes in broad daylight.

I don’t understand, he says pointing to the enthusiastic church service that is gathering momentum in the tent nearly. This is my church, he says.
Its not just the indifference of the worshippers, its that their security were told lock the toilets and deny water to the refugees.
Didn’t Jesus feed the hungry, he asks. Doesn’t the bible tell us to protect the weak?

Sipho is visibly upset. He tries to come up with suggestions. We’ve tried them all.
I’ll stay here as long as I can, he says. I’ll come back in the night and see if everything is okay.

These are my people, says Sipho in desperation. These are my people he says, meaning the refugees.

But he means only this: when they sleep out here, they feel the same cold that I would feel if I had to sleep out here. When strangers come with knives and guns, they feel the same terror that I would feel. Those mothers are worried about their children in the same way that my mother worried about me when I was a child.

But Sipho is not the mayor. Sipho is not the head of disaster management. Sipho is not in the Office of the Premier.

Sipho is just a someone who happens to live a block away from Albert Park, who happened to be in there tonight. Sipho is just someone who can imagine what is its like to be cold, and what it is like to be scared, and what a mother feels when she realizes she may longer be able to protect her child from the kinds of nightmares that are not supposed to happen, but sometimes do.

And Sipho, like us, is worried, and slightly desperate, and doesn’t know what to do.

July 10, 2008

refugees assaulted at city hall

Filed under: Updates — durbancrisis @ 8:32 pm

http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-07-10-destitute-cold-hungry-and-beaten-up

caught on cellphone:

http://www.youtube.com/v/WBY0v2yx81Q

Destitute, cold, hungry — and beaten up

NIREN TOLSI | DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA – Jul 10 2008 17:46

A pregnant Congolese woman was beaten by private security guards hired by the eThekwini municipality on Thursday evening as foreign nationals displaced by xenophobia staged a sit-in on the steps of Durban’s City Hall.

Salema Moshondi, who is five-and-a-half months pregnant, was left vomiting on the floor after repeated blows to her body — including her stomach — by two security guards.

She was rushed to Addington Hospital where, according to her husband, Abbas Moshondi, she was in a stable condition. “The doctors have told me that she is OK but they are still working with her. That is all I know,” he said.

Moshondi was part of a group of about 100 foreign nationals, displaced by xenophobia, who were protesting against what they see as local and provincial government’s failure to act on their destitution.

Most of the foreigners had spent the past month living at community halls and churches around the city. But, since last week, these churches — which have run out of money and food — have been leaving people on the steps of the City Hall.

After putting up about 200 foreigners in a central business district lodge for a week, the eThekwini municipality has asked the displaced people to find alternative accommodation.

On Thursday, with neither mayor Obed Mlaba nor city manager Mike Sutcliffe in the city, local councillors appeared more intent on saving face rather than solving the problem.

African National Congress councillor Visvin Naidoo told leaders of the group to move to the nearby office of the department of social welfare where they would be helped, though the offices had already closed for the day.

The refugees, half of whom were children under 10 years old, were adamant that they would spend the bitterly cold night protesting outside. “We have no homes to go to, and we are not safe in the areas where we used to live. We will stay here because the government brought us here and they must help us,” said Amsi Wilondga.

While the stand-off between metro police and refugees continued, South African bystanders continued to hurl derision and abuse at the group, telling them to “Fuck off back to Zimbabwe and vote for Tsvangirai.”

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
Web Address: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-07-10-destitute-cold-hungry-and-beaten-up

July 3, 2008

Site monitoring updates – please volunteer and help

Filed under: Updates — durbancrisis @ 12:45 pm

Please volunteer to help Alice with the site monitoring!

I have set up a monitoring group to visit/phone refugee shelters and keep reporting on what is happening. I am getting burnt out because there are only 2 of us doing this very important work. Please could people get involved. Phone me on 0845643891 and leave a clear message or sms your phone number. Thanks, Alice

Tue 1 July from Alice
Yesterday, 1 July, I went to visit the refugees who were left on the steps of the city hall by Greyville Methodist Church. This includes the 13 who were at Greyville and the 18 who were at Umbilo Methodist Church and then transfered across to Greyville. Altogether there were 41 outside the city hall. So there might be some 10 people who joined the group. The story from Greyville is that extra people started coming into the church and the refugees became quite abusive. Aslam Khan from UNOCHA came. I urged him to set up a refugee camp as an interim measure. He said they cannot do this without the City’s permission.
I attended a meeting at the Disaster Management Centre. There were mostly people from Disaster Management, also Home Affairs, Head of the Red Cross, MCC, UN. I took one of the leaders of the refugees, Akyamba Hulubatu. Someone from Disaster Management said that a sight for a refugee sight has been identified at what used to be the SPCA in Cato Manor (next to the Cato Manor police station). He said that unless the City gives the green light the won’t move people. He said Michael Sutcliffe has grave reservations about creating a refugee camp for “obvious reasons”. provincial govt says there are advantages and disadvantages to having all refugees at one or 2 sights.There policy is repatriation or reintegration. Apparently Sutcliffe did meet with the management from Glenwood Community Church and stated that the matter is for the Provincial and National Govt. The person from MCC said that the decisions from Prov Govt have not been implemented. City management were not at the meeting so she said that the meeting was a complete waste of time. Home Affairs said that govt policy is no refugee camps and no provision of food – people are equal citizens and can work and have acces to health care and education, just like SA citizens. Mr Duze, Head of Disaster Management stated “This is not a disaster. There is no crisis. There has been no information of attacks from SAPS. People must be reintegrated and must go back to the places they came from” He handed out a list of all the displaced people with the areas they came from. he said there are no problems in Umbilo, no problems in Point Rd. No incidences of violence have been reported. Akyamba spoke about the experiences of the refugees being stabbed and beaten. Mr Duze then said that Akyamba should not be in the meeting that they cannot have a meeting about strategy with refugees present. Other people nodded there heads and so we decided to leave.
The 47 people outside the City Hall were moved to the SPCA last night. Please could Peaches visit the sight? Please I need more volunteers to do this work as it is all very demanding.

Wed 2 July from Alice:

Today, 2 July I visited the sight at the SPCA. People are in a tent with no mattresses. There are 29 people there moved from outside the City Hall by Disaster Management. They were given food last night but not today so I called and emailed Red Cross with the stats. No one is managing the sight. This is a potentially very dangerous situation as the sight is in Cato Manor where there have been alot of tensions and xenophobic incidents. I question the suitability of having the camp there. There are no kitchen facilities – so nowhere to even boil water to prepare formula for babies. I phoned the UN to urge them to establish a refugee camp in a more suitable place – both for these refugees and for the 176 at the shelter in town.

June 26, 2008

one month later…

Filed under: Updates — durbancrisis @ 12:52 pm

Hi All

Its now a month since South Africans went on the rampage and starting attacking and killing foreigners. If you had to judge by the media or the accounts of municipality, Durban was largely unaffected and this have been well under control.

The reality is a bit more grim. At first about 2500 people fled to churches and police stations. Within a week of the violence starting, most churches that had taken in refugees closed their doors, unable to cope with any more residents. The police stations did the same, but conditions there were mostly even worse, and they soon began to force the refugees to leave.

The municipality basically did nothing, except issue self serving and misleading press statements assuring the press and public that everything was fine, while leaving volunteers and NGOs to do all the actual work.
(http://www.imaginedurban.org/2008/06/12/xenophobia-situation-in-durban-metro/)
Mozambique and Malawi sent busses to fetch refugees and take them home.  The Provincial government, whose responsibility it actually was, said they were organising sites for the refugees to move to. A month later, they still don’t exit. Now people have been forced to leave nearly all of the police stations, and this week some of the churches, after doing everything they could,  turned their refugees out on the street. The Red Cross, who had been supplying food to sites, was forced to turn their attention to flood victims on the South Coast

So the current situation is that there are about 600 people in shelters, mostly not because they chose to reintegrate themselves into their communities, but because they were forced out of shelters. Xenophobic harassment continues. We hear reports ranging from Congelese children being thrown off their buses to school, to Zimbabweans in hiding being threatened with firearms. But the press is no longer interested and the Province in wilfully neglecting its legal responsibilities. One can only wonder if it because at the end of the day they in fact support the xenophobic sentiments. Unless of course it is just simple incompetence.

This week we managed to get supplies to sites and the Red Cross from the money raised at the gigs at the BAT Centre (thanks to Ben Murrel for this wonderful initiative). Good timing, as supplies had run out almost everywhere.

At this point several things need to happen
i) the failure of Province to take responsibility need to be documented and contested
ii) the continuing xenophobic harassment needs to be documented, as does the police failure to support victims and intervene effectively
iii) the issue needs to be kept in the press
iv) volunteers are need to visit the sites and document the refugees stories
v) ongoing anti-xenophobia campaigns need to be developed (see meeting below)

At this stage I have accumulated a massive work backlog and am no longer able to devote much attention to this issue, so I encourage others to take it forward…

Thanks for all you amazing participation

increase the peace

Anthony

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