Durban Action Against Xenophobia

July 12, 2008

3am 12 July Message from Kathleen

Filed under: Updates — durbancrisis @ 8:42 am
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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.



11 July – Refugees dumped in Albert Park

Filed under: Updates — durbancrisis @ 8:41 am
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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.

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