Chatsworth displaced persons camp: “Last week I was able to support myself; now I am living off donations”

The Chatsworth camp for victims of the xenophobic attacks in Durban currently houses more than 3,000 displaced people. SAFIYYAH PATEL volunteered there last weekend.

At last count, there were more than 3,000 immigrants and refugees from a host of African countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Burundi, Nigeria, Somalia and Zimbabwe at the Chatsworth Displacement Camp. Many of them are too scared to leave and are hoping the violence ends soon so that they can return to their homes and jobs.

People in the camp said they had been caught largely unaware when the attacks started. Many fled to camps, carrying as many as their possessions as they could. Some people we spoke to at the camp were hoping to return home in the next few days while others, not confident that South Africa was safe for them any longer, were waiting to be seated on a bus to return to their home countries.

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In addition to the eight tents that have been put up on the Chatsworth sports field, there are smaller tents on the fringes of the camp. The camp is cordoned off with crowd-control fences and is closely monitored by armed guards and members of the SAPS. Access to the camp is controlled and only authorised entry is allowed.

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Many of the people at the camp are self-employed and so each day in the camp means they are losing income. “Last week I was able to support myself; now I am living off donations,” one man said. “Some locals are getting angry at the government because aid is being sent to us and they feel like they should be receiving it.”

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Volunteers from the Institute for Learning & Motivation – South Africa (ILM-SA) assemble a gazebo as a prayer space, following  a request from a group of Muslims living in the displacement camp.

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At the last count, more than 20%  of the people staying at the Chatsworth displacement camp were children.

Volunteers were allowed into the camp to spend some time doing arts and crafts with children, many of whom have not been to school since they were driven from their homes.

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Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has started working with people in the camp. Many cases of diarrhoea and fever are being reported from children. Some men in the camp presented with protest related injuries and a handful of TB cases were also reported. People have said they are scared to go to hospitals for fear of being targeted or attacked.

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Almost all of the children in the camp as well as a large number of the adults have not returned to school or work since the violence broke out. People sit idly in circles or resting against their possessions, waiting it out.

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Immigrants and refugees who are applying for repatriation documents to their respective countries, wait in line to get their fingerprints taken. The department of home affairs has set up a makeshift tent just outside the displacement camp to facilitate the process.

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Immigrants and refugees wait in lines, with their belongings and families kept near, to board one of the several buses that have been organised to take them back to their home countries. The buses in this picture are headed to Zimbabwe.

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I hope that when this little girl remembers the events of the last week, it is the capacity of human greatness she remembers over the ugliness. That the faces of those who came bearing food, clothes and pasta necklaces to pass the time, blur the angry faces of those that drove her and her family out of their home. That her last memories of South Africa are not of cold nights in overcrowded tents, but of warm people in dire situations. I hope that through the moments of darkness, it is the moments of light that stay with her.

SafiyyahSafiyyah Patel is a freelance graphic designer based in Durban. She is also a volunteer with the Institute for Learning & Motivation – South Africa. Follow her on Twitter.