Refugees in South Africa cry for help amidst coronavirus hardship
London, June 23, 2020 (AltAfrica)-It’s been about 12 weeks since refugees about 800 African refugees began living in a massive tent in South Africa for the duration of the coronavirus lockdown, now they say things are getting more difficult.
Despite being protected in South Africa by the Refugees Act of 1998, the refugees have been excluded from a number of Covid-19 aid packages. Before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would be moving to level 3 of the lockdown, all inhabitants, including the refugees had to close down their non-essential businesses and stay home.
The African refugees camping at the Wingfield military site in Goodwood say they have many unanswered questions, and that there’s still no clarity on future plans from the UN refugee agency or the South African government.
Before now, they were camping out in the Waldorf Arcade, then at the Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square, and moved again to the streets near the Central Police Station.
They feel government has ‘abandoned’ them, but remain hopeful for a better life outside the large tent they are living in during the lockdown.
Opposite the cemetery along Voortrekker Road in Goodwood is the massive white tent and inside are smaller tents where families with children are living
It’s extremely crowded inside as people are sleeping close to each other. And because of the chaos, it’s hard to adhere to the 1.5 metre social distancing requirement.
Inside the crowded tent, children are seen playing with balls, others at a table drawing, and babies crying while their mothers try to feed them.
There’s nothing much to do here – adults are either reading books, doing their washing or cooking or braiding each other’s hair.
A mother washing clothing outside the massive tent.
Outside are mobile toilets and the group decided to make their own shower using four steel fences and plastic sheets. It’s tough living in these conditions and many are grateful they’re not on the streets.
In one small tent is a family of 6, including four children. Zainab Amisi from Congo said these past few weeks had not been easy.
She worried about her children crying at night because it’s cold and about the COVID-19 pandemic because the place is packed.
Zainab Amisi and her family outside the tent she and her husband and four children have been living in since the lockdown started.
“It’s very difficult for us, it’s cold and we don’t have enough blankets. With the rain the water is coming into the tent.”
And in another tent close by is Fatuma Mussa Rukundo with a two-month- old baby – she gave birth during the lockdown to her little girl dressed warmly in pink.
Fatuma Rukundo with her two-month-old baby inside their tent.
She said despite all the fights and trauma she had with officers in the CBD during her pregnancy, it’s this bundle of joy that’s kept her going.
‘’I didn’t know if I’m going to give normal birth, if she will be fine, but God has blessed me.”
A man writing between all the noise at the camp.
Tilda Wilondja and her 8-year-old son have been living at the site since the start of the lockdown. She said it was cold at night, sleeping on a mattress without cover as she awaits a smaller tent.
Wilondja is one of a few women from the camp who spent a week at Pollsmoor Prison after there were clashes with law enforcement officers.
Her eyes full of tears, she said it was something she would not forget, but hoped for a better life.
“They came at me, holding me, and I had my mother behind me, my son ran off. It was chaotic. It was the worst experience of my life. You’re the police, you can’t hit me with those plastic things,” she said.
Wilondja said it hadn’t been easy living here as they mostly depended on donations.
“At night it’s like a freezer in here.”
And her big question was, where was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees?
“Why are we so abandoned? They are the organisation that should be helping refugees. But why are they doing this? Some of us were arrested.”
And even though they’ve been moved around and have had their fair share of trauma, many of the residents celebrated World Refugee Day on 20 June.