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.