Displaced by Xenophobia in South Africa

A woman and her child stand among the tents at the camp for displaced Africans in Isipingo, Durban. Life in the tented camps that have sprung up in this South African coastal city after a recent spate of xenophobic attacks is far from ideal. Hundreds of people must share taps, toilets and communal sleeping quarters. The overcrowded conditions are ideal for the spread of contagious diseases such as measles, diahorrea and cholera.
Greg Lomas
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In March and April 2015, a wave of xenophobic violence spread across South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province, killing seven people and injuring many more. Around 7,000 foreign nationals—from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe—were displaced from their homes, forced to live in displaced persons camps on the outskirts of Durban.

Since the violence began, many have left the camps and returned to their countries of origin. But the Burundians and Congolese are trapped, unable to return to their countries because of war and afraid to stay due to violence. While living in the camps, they are excluded from health care, and receive little protection from authorities.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing medical assistance to those who remain stuck in the camps. MSF teams are also providing mental health services to those traumatized by the violence and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

A woman and her child stand among the tents at the camp for displaced Africans in Isipingo, Durban. Life in the tented camps that have sprung up in this South African coastal city after a recent spate of xenophobic attacks is far from ideal. Hundreds of people must share taps, toilets and communal sleeping quarters. The overcrowded conditions are ideal for the spread of contagious diseases such as measles, diahorrea and cholera.
Greg Lomas
Hundreds of men line up to receive food at one of the three tented camps that have sprung up in Durban, the South African city that has been the epicenter of xenophobic violence in recent weeks. Many of them will be returning home to neighbouring Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in the coming days, as the governments of these countries have begun to repatriate their fearful citizens. Others, from war-torn Democratic Republic Congo and Burundi, will wait longer to know their fate.
Greg Lomas
The MSF mobile clinic in Isipingo displacement camp, provides medical care and referrals to people displaced by recent violent xenophobic attacks in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal (KZN) province. Our team also offers water sanitation support services to three camps (Isipingo, Chatsworth and Phoenix) housing more than 5,000 people seeking refuge. MSF medical staff provide primary healthcare for a variety of conditions and coordinates closely with the provincial health department which resupplies people suffering from chronic conditions like HIV and TB with medications they lost while fleeing.
Greg Lomas
MSF nurse Sibongiseni Ngobese speaks to a patient during a consultation inside MSF’s mobile clinic at the Isipingo displacement camp where the team provides medical care and hospital referrals to people recently displaced by violent xenophobic attacks in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal (KZN) province. The camps house more than 5,000 people around the city including several hundred pregnant women, young children and babies who fled the violence.
Greg Lomas
Patients await consultation outside an MSF mobile clinic in the Isipingo displacement camp. Apart from medical care MSF also provides water and sanitation support in the camps where more than 5,000 people have sought refuge after violent xenophobic attacks in the KwaZulu Natal (KZN) province in South Africa. MSF is assisting in three displacement camps (Isipingo, Chatsworth and Phoenix), coordinating with the provincial health department. The MSF team provides mobile clinic services twice weekly for medical consultations, as well as referrals to hospitals.
Greg Lomas
Roger has lived in South Africa since 2001, after fleeing violence in the Bukavu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. On 31 March, as usual, he was selling jeans, shoes and leather jackets – “everything that goes on the human body” – in downtown Isipingo when he was attacked by a group of young men wielding pangas (machetes) and bottles. Everyone who saw him being attacked that day thought he had been killed. Roger’s Testimony: “It was about 11 o’clock in the morning on 31 March. I was walking near my shop in Isipingo when about 20 guys attacked me. They were quite young, 17 to 25 years old; nobody was over 30 years that I saw. I fell to the ground and they kicked me in my face and on my body. They wanted to stab me and I thought I was going to die, but some old ladies shouted at them to leave me alone, not to kill me, because they know me from around there for a long time. The guys ran away. My shirt was full of blood and I was dizzy, but I got up and I ran away. Further down the road some other guys also attacked me. This time it was some older men who told them not to kill me. Again the youngsters ran away and left me lying there. “After that some guys stopped in a kombi van, told me to get in and lie down on the back seat so I would not be seen by the thugs. I did as I was told, but later the driver began driving very slowly. One of the others in the van came and told me to take off my shoes. I was surprised to see they were robbing me. I gave them my shoes, my jacket full of blood. I thought they would definitely kill me, but they dropped me off somewhere I can’t remember. I found a place in the bush near a bridge, and I slept there for maybe four hours. “When I woke up I saw some women walking past. They saw all the blood on me, and asked me what had happened. I told them and said I needed to go home to KwaMakhutha. I wasn’t sure I could trust them, but one of them gave me R10 ($0.82/€0.76) for transport, so I went with them. They showed me the road where someone in a car gave me a lift, and I managed to get to my house. I stayed there for four days by myself, using hot water and some small medicine I had there to fix myself a little bit. “When the swelling on my face went down, I went to the hospital. I was in a lot of pain, but they found that luckily nothing was broken. Then I came here. My friends all thought I was dead, so they were happy to see me. Later somebody told me those thugs looted the container where I keep all my stock, and stole everything. My wife died nine months ago, and left me with two children: a boy of nine years old and a daughter of three. They are staying with others until my life gets better.”
Greg Lomas
A group of men from Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Malawi – displaced by after the recent spate of violent xenophobic attacks – play soccer on a sports field where a displacement camp has been set up in Isipingo, on the outskirts of Durban in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. This camp, one of three like it in city hosting more than 5000 men, women and children, is home to over 800 people. An MSF team provides basic medical care in mobile clinics as well as water and sanitation support to people in these camps
Greg Lomas
Mozambican Fabian (28) sits on the stands of the Isipingo sports field which has become a temporary refuge for hundreds of foreign nationals fleeing xenophobic violence in Durban, a city on the east coast of South Africa. Three such camps exist in the city now. Muhate, a builder by trade, repeats the all too common tale of being chased from his home by a gang of armed men, then returning the following day to find his most valuable belongings gone. But his greatest sadness is reserved for a friend whom he visits in hospital every day. Vilanculos Azarias, also from Mozambique, was allegedly attacked with a hammer, and suffered serious and perhaps permanent debilitating injury. Fabian’s Testimony: “I came to South Africa from Mozambique with my uncle in 1999. He died in 2003 and I had nowhere to go, so I decided to build a life for myself here in South Africa. I learned how to become a builder, I met a girl at a hair salon, a girl from my country. We got married and we had two children. Three weeks ago they came to my house. I put my wife and children into the bedroom; we put the lights off and hid next to the bed not making noise. The guys were shouting outside, then they threw a big stone through the window. I didn’t want them to burn my house, so I opened the door for them. When they came inside, they asked us: “When are you leaving? You must leave now. You are a foreigner.” We ran to stay at a friend’s house. The next day I went back to look at my house. I saw everything was gone: our clothes, TV, laptop computer, two cellphones, my toolbox, my grinder, also our money from under the bed. We were lucky they didn’t beat us. My friend told us we couldn’t stay with him because it wasn’t safe, maybe they could come back. We heard about Isipingo Camp, so now we are here since three weeks.” “Every day I go to visit my friend in Mushiyeni Memorial Hospital. His name is Vilanculos Azarias and he was beaten over the head with a hammer. I didn’t see it myself, but his neighbours told me what happened. They said it was about 20 guys. They also looted and burned his house. He was in a coma for more than a week, but I can see he is getting better now: he can open one eye. He can’t talk and he can’t go to the toilet. He wears a nappy. He used to work at a bakery in Umlazi and I know he’s got a wife and children in Mozambique. I went to the police station to open a case about it. I call the police station every day, but they say they are still trying to find someone to investigate. There are many who were beaten like my friend, but they won’t come forward to say it’s xenophobia. They are too scared. Me, I just pray to God He will take us out of this bad situation.” “I don’t have a house in Mozambique, I don’t have a family there. My life is here, but even now I don’t feel safe.” “I don’t know the people who did this to me. They are people who came from somewhere else. I don’t trust my neighbours, even though I have been living there for many years. I don’t tell them anything about what happened to me because you don’t know. They will pretend to feel sympathy for you, but when you go away they will say many things. They will even bring some guys from outside to come attack your house and take your things. They will bring them and show them where you live. They say: ‘He’s a foreigner, go and loot his house, and we will share it among ourselves.’ This is what I know from speaking to others who have also been attacked.” “In this situation, you cannot see very well what is going to happen, so you just have to trust in God.” “I’m not scared for myself. I can risk my life because I trust in God, but I’m scared for what could happen to my family. Family is everything, you know?” “Living in this situation is not good, you know, especially for a child. It is cold at night, the wind blows and sometimes it is raining. The tents are overcrowded and the children are getting sick. We are just praying for a solution.”
Greg Lomas