Xenophobia refugees: What will happen to us?

With her baby on her hip and her son at her side, Zimbabwean Gloria Mhango walked down Johannesburg’s Sauer Street on Wednesday urgently looking for accommodation ahead of Friday’s closure of the shelters that housed people displaced by xenophobic violence.

“Where is a single mother going to find something in the middle of the month for herself and her children?” asked Mhango.

Back at one of the shelters in Glenanda, Johannesburg, her son guarded her belongings, hoping his mother would find something in the two hours she had left before nightfall.

Mhango had received a one-off payout from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), meant to help her and her three children find accommodation.

On Friday, tents at the six main shelters in Gauteng will be pulled down and the approximately 2 500 people still living there of the original 20 000 will have to move.

The Gauteng government believes conditions are safe for their return to their original communities, but a group of lawyers disagree and are waiting to hear from the Constitutional Court on an application to keep the shelters open until a proper reintegration programme has been devised.

Further, Parliament’s multiparty task team into the violent attacks on foreign nationals in May has proposed that the temporary refugee shelters remain open pending further consultation. The task team met on Wednesday to assess the integration process over the past few months.

Mhango said once she received the money, her tent was dismantled and she was expected to fend for herself.

She had been living in Bez Valley, east of Johannesburg, before May’s xenophobic violence, and was forced out of her home by people who wanted to hijack the house, but used her nationality as an excuse, she said.

She said the money was not enough and that she was afraid that she was not going to find accommodation because of her expenses and her children’s fees.

“I have to look for a job because I can’t do anything with this money, my children have to go to school and they also have to eat.”

At a shelter near Germiston’s Rand Airport, people queued to be assessed for the grant, to be paid by the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) on behalf of UNHCR.

“The JSR is providing financial assistance. [These people] are being assisted in order to avoid finding themselves on the street on Friday, when camps are due to close in Gauteng,” said JRS country director Gerard Shavatu.

While people sat with social workers to fill in their application forms, children held impromptu wrestling matches in the dust, or played with the pamphlets informing their parents they had to move. Some men did pull-ups on the frame of a dismantled tent that was used for the children’s crèche.

A few other tents lay on the ground and a Salvation Army bakkie was piled with chairs and tables from the crèche.

Approximately 1 500 people were still there.

Some did laundry in buckets in the water-logged makeshift ablution area, while some enterprising residents set up small sweet stalls or repaired shoes.

Shavatu said they did not want to disclose the amount paid, as it would vary depending on each applicant’s individual needs. One received R1 500, while another received R750, the South African Press Association was told by residents.

On receipt of the money, they were expected to vacate the camp.

“R750 is not enough, plus it’s a one-off thing. What will happen to us afterwards, because we are even scared to go back to the communities we were living in?” asked Causemore Masuku (22), a Zimbabwean national.

“The reintegration programme was not well implemented; some of us were not informed about the choices that we have,” said former mechanic Wonderful Ngwenya (22), a Mozambican national.

“A person has to start from scratch. The money is useless, I can’t even afford to rent a room with that,” he added.

Another Zimbabwean, “Texas” Marsh, said he would also not be able to resist arguing with the thief who stole his television set should he spot it, so he would rather not return to his original community.

The Gauteng government said those who refused to move would be considered to be trespassing.—Sapa

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