The future of nearly 300 Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi nationals in Durban is unclear after they refused to move out of a refugee camp in Isipingo and into a central camp for remaining refugees on Friday.
Yesterday, as the Isipingo camp was dismantled, negotiators continued to try to convince them to move to Chatsworth, a process they rejected even though the marquees in which they slept had been dismantled.
They fled to the camp when the first wave of xenophobic attacks in the south of Durban began a month ago.
Nongovernmental organisations working at the Isipingo camp reported that fighting broke out on Friday night between residents and police, and members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, who had arrived to assist the foreigners, also clashed with police. The squabbles continued throughout the night and into yesterday morning.
Daniel Dunia, spokesperson for the 260 Congolese who have been at the Isipingo camp since the first wave of attacks at the end of March, said they were concerned that they were going to be dumped in Chatsworth and that authorities had given up trying to reintegrate them into the Isipingo community.
“They tell us there is a plan, but they don’t tell us what it is. They say they are engaging the community, but nobody’s engaging us,” he said.
Dunia said the Congolese were prepared to be repatriated to another country where their refugee status would be recognised, suggesting Botswana because it was “peaceful”.
Steven Gael Juma (31), who has lived in a rented house in Isipingo Rail since 2002, is among those refusing to move to Chatsworth. Juma lost all his computer and phone repair equipment and stock when his shop was looted.
“I have nothing. The landlord has already cleaned my room and has a new tenant. I have nowhere to go. Government needs to do something for us, give us somewhere where we can live safely,” Juma said.
“They tell us there is a plan. People came here from Phoenix. Now they must move to Chatsworth. What is next? Where are we going? Our children are at school in Isipingo. We had businesses here. My ex-girlfriend is Zulu. She and my two children are in Isipingo. If we go to Chatsworth, we will never come back here.”
Doctors Without Borders field coordinator Emi MacLean said the organisation was concerned that not enough was being done to negotiate the safe return of the refugees to their communities ahead of the proposed camp closure in the middle of the week. At the same time, keeping them in the camp in the long term was also not a solution.
“The Burundians and Congolese who remain here can’t make the choice to go home. They are documented refugees and a means has to be found to allow them to return in a way in which they are safe,” said MacLean