Friday, 13 June 2008

It's the kids who suffer most

Rifle Range Refugee Camp on the Southwestern outskirts of Johannesburg.

2300 immigrants from 14 African nations have been relocated here ten days ago, after spending excruciating days fearing for the lives at various police stations throughout the city.

They've lost everything: their homes, their jobs, all their belongings. Many just have what they wore when they fled the xenophobic violence.

A group of Congolese young men is showing us around the camp. Neat rows of white plastic tents, all numbered and sorted by nationalities.

Here are the Ethiopians, down there - towards the end - the Zimbabweans, Malawians and Somalis. And here the Congolese, one of the camp's biggest communities. Every community has so-called Peace Marshalls and community leaders.

But the seemingly organised structure doesn't gloss over the chaos and the desperation.

It's the kids who suffer most here at the Rifle Range Refugee Camp.

Families with up to eight kids live in crammed tents. There are no mattresses and not enough blankets. The refugees are using cardboard boxes to try and isolate the winter cold, but it doesn't work. There's no hot water and the sanitation is rudimentary, to put it mildly.

Food is distributed twice a day, but a few slices of bread are simply not enough. Many suffer from diarrhoea and some refugees told us that much of the food they've receive is way past the date and actually rotten.

The atmosphere in the camp is tense - and the anger palpable. And who can blame them?

Xenophobia is part of everyday life for the refugees here in South Africa.

Susanne, a 43-year old Congolese tells me she was harassed on the bus yesterday as she was on her way to extend her papers. They called her "Kwere Kwere" - which means "foreigner" in Zulu. They said she should leave the country, because foreigners are neither needed nor wanted.

Susanne is sad - and very upset. Like most of the foreigners here at the Rifle Range Refugee Camp, she fled her country because she was persecuted. Going home is not an option. But staying here neither.


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