MSF, Doctors Without Borders, International Migrants Day
migration

“Try being in my mind for 20 seconds” – stories from migrant journeys

Psychological experience of migration to and within South Africa

The following stories, illustrated by South African artist Balekane Legoabe, give us a glimpse into the emotional and psychological experience of migration to and within South Africa as we commemorate International Migrants Day on 18 December. 

To better understand the experiences of migrants and to provide medical assistance according to their needs, MSF staff in our migrant health projects in Tshwane, South Africa, and Beitbridge, Zimbabwe, have recorded hundreds of testimonies since 2019. Their stories very often detail harrowing journeys marked by intimidation, ill-treatment and abuse, including long periods in detention with poor access to healthcare services.

“Having gathered such testimonies with full consent, we share our concerns with authorities to advocate for better migrants’ conditions,” says Rinako Uenishi, Project Coordinator of the MSF Migration Project in Beitbridge.

The following stories, illustrated by South African artist Balekane Legoabe, give us a glimpse into the emotional and psychological experience of migration to and within South Africa as we commemorate International Migrants Day on 18 December.

Story 1: I Am Burning To understand suffering, people say you must walk in another person's shoes. That's nothing, try being in my mind for 20 seconds.
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Story 1: I Am Burning I have a son, but no money. I needed to get to South Africa, I had to, but I had no money. In Harare, the truck driver said, "give payment in kind." I had one thought: for my son, I'll do this.
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Story 1: I Am Burning At Beitbridge border post it was hot as hell, there is a bed in every truck cab, a stinking mattress, I had to wrap myself in to hide from the police, such heat.
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Story 1: I Am Burning I had one thought: I am boiling, I am burning, I am made of fire, I am going to die.
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Story 1: I Am Burning #InternationalMigrantsDay 2021
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A picture of a migrant resting in a tent at a temporary shelter where migrants entering South Africa through Musina take refuge.

Migrants' Challenges

Migrants returning to Zimbabwe carry hard stories of journeys to and within South Africa, but little else.
"The deportees, especially, are visibly exhausted when they arrive – their wide gazes reflect despair, extreme stress and boredom. They have been detained in prisons and police stations, but most embarked in South Africa’s notorious Lindela Repatriation Centre. Our interviews revealed that many migrants spend protracted periods in detention facilities – a quarter of respondents had spent more than a year locked up, with limited access to healthcare and basic needs. This is a real problem, both from a medical and human rights perspective," - Rinako Uenishi, Project Coordinator of the MSF Migration Project in Beitbridge

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Story 2: Shoes and Pills In Beitbridge, I survived by selling clothes and shoes. In October, police confiscated my goods. When I went to the police station to ask for my property, I was arrested and sent to Lindela Repatriation Centre.
MSF, Doctors Without Borders, International Migrants Day
Story 2: Shoes and Pills For 22 days I had only one thought: my shoes and my pills. The shoes they confiscated from me that I depend upon to feed my family, and the ARVs I depend upon for my health.
MSF, Doctors Without Borders, International Migrants Day
Story 2: Shoes and Pills For 22 days I could not take my ARVs. For 22 days, I worried and lost weight. They refused to do anything about it... Shoes and pills, shoes and pills.
MSF, Doctors Without Borders, International Migrants Day