Nine-year-old Dolly, staying in a temporary camp, doesn’t understand xenophobia – but like hundreds of children, she bears the brunt all the same.
Dolly has now lost weeks of schooling and misses her friends and teachers terribly. She lends her voice to the plight of foreign nationals still in limbo in South Africa.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Southern Africa has released “Voices from the Camps”, a series of five powerful video testimonies from people who were displaced in the wake of the xenophobic violence in March, to ensure their stories are not forgotten and that South Africans learn more about the life-threatening challenges that vulnerable foreign nationals face.
By telling their stories in these videos, refugees, asylum seekers and survival migrants expose the harsh reality of life as “amakwerekwere” in South Africa. They describe the persistent xenophobia that leads to healthcare exclusion, being denied protection and the unpredictable violence they face from friends and neighbours. Many experienced similar attacks in 2008.
Following the repatriation of thousands of Malawians, Mozambicans and Zimbabweans in April by bus, the displacement camps set up for foreign nationals shrunk. Today 520 people – predominantly Burundians and Congolese – are stuck in limbo in the last remaining camp in Chatsworth. They cannot be repatriated to the conflict zones they fled from – but they don’t feel that it is safe to be reintegrated into the very communities from which they recently fled. Government-led reintegration efforts are underway but the trust of traumatised camp residents in a safe return is fragile.
“The kind of trauma we see in the camp is similar to what my MSF colleagues have witnessed in South Sudan and Central African Republic where people have been exposed to active conflicts. Our interviews with Chatsworth camp residents indicated they have suffered cumulative traumas. First they experienced violence in their country of origin; [then] again during the 2008 xenophobic violence, and again now in 2015. They also tell us about the daily level of discrimination and alienation they experience – at hospitals, getting around in minibus taxis and from police elsewhere,” MSF psychologist Penni Cox says.
With Africa Day on May 25, MSF Southern Africa calls on South Africans to help stop xenophobia and commit to solidarity for survival by sharing these videos to show compassion, and an understanding borne from our common humanity.