MUSINA, South Africa, FEB. 10, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Zimbabwean refugees, fleeing the humanitarian crisis in their own country, have found an equally “horrendous” situation in the South African camp where they are being held, says Caritas Internationalis.
Caritas reported today that an estimated 3,000 men, women and children are living in “dire conditions” in Musina, a South African border town.
Sister Aine Hughes of Caritas said, “The situation for Zimbabwean refugees in Musina is horrendous.”
She explained: “People are herded together with no thought for their dignity as human beings. There is no shelter of any kind provided to the people. They sit in the blistering sun during the day and huddle together under the stars at night for safety and warmth.”
The Zimbabweans fled from deteriorating conditions in their own country, including a crumbling health and sanitation system, a cholera epidemic, astronomical inflation, famine and political unrest.
The South African government classified them as “economic migrants,” reported Caritas, which means that they may be denied asylum, be detained and deported.
Sister Hughes asserted, “The situation of the Zimbabwean refugees in Musina is in contravention of all the conventions and principles for humanitarian assistance and should be addressed with the utmost urgency.”
Meanwhile, the Zimbabweans remain in a wire perimeter refugee camp the size of a football field, which lacks shelter, sanitation and protection. They resort to bits of plastic to shelter their children and belongings during rainstorms.
Sanitation consists of 14 chemical toilets and two “inadequate” washing facilities.
The report stated that “bribes are the only means of survival and for those who are too poor to be able to comply they are subjected to every possible form of discrimination.”
Sister Hughes said, “Women with whom I spoke, shared how they huddle together at night in the hope of being able to protect one another, but despite that many are raped repeatedly, abused by both their own people and officials at the camp who are supposed to protect them.”
Those Zimbabweans who have attempted to join the local community are meeting rejection due to the lack of asylum documents. Children have been driven from the school, or threatened with expulsion once their asylum permit terminates.
Some refugees who have found jobs have been cheated out of wages, and threatened with jail and deportation for not having the appropriate documents.
Caritas reported that aid organizations have given tents for the refugees, but “the municipality of Musina has rejected the offers.”
Approximately 270 receive food parcels daily from the local Catholic Church.