In the past week MSF's team working among the foreign nationals and refugees in Durban has seen the constructive engagement between KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Community Safety Willies Mchunu and camp residents about their fears and reintegration efforts being undertaken. Authorities took a conciliatory approach that saw Mchunu spend Tuesday speaking and listening to the concerns of about 700 camp residents.
However, on the very same day police, the military and Home Affairs officials, conducted nighttime raids targeting foreigners across the Durban city centre – arresting more than 100 people with the intention to deport them. On Friday morning in Johannesburg the Central Methodist Church and other places in the central business district were targeted in similar raids netting hundreds of people, which government says is aimed at rooting out crime and clamping down on foreign nationals without documents.
This type of action sends a contradictory message to foreign nationals who remain vulnerable and deeply traumatised and South Africans among whom they will re-integrate.
People in the camps in Durban have expressed skepticism about reintegrating into back into communities where 6 weeks ago they were systematically targeted because they are foreigners – regardless of being migrants or refugees. There have also been documented violent incidents involving police in the camps.
Last week, among the people residing in the Chatsworth displacement camp MSF psychologists screened using an internationally recognized screening tool (Harvard Trauma Questionnaire), the majority assessed showed symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress. They rated the frequency with which they experience nightmares, flashbacks, a sense of hopelessness and helplessness etc.
The kind of trauma our psychologists witnessed is similar to what MSF sees in refugee / displacement camps in Central African Republic and South Sudan where people are the victims of active conflict in civil strife.
From our interviews with residents in the camp, it’s clear that some people have suffered cumulative traumas – experiencing violence in their country of origin, again during bouts of xenophobic violence in 2008, and now in 2015. However, they also tell us about the daily level of discrimination and alienation they experience – at hospitals, in minibus taxis and more worryingly from police officers.
MSF is therefore concerned that the raids by the police, military and the department of home affairs in wake of the xenophobic violence erodes trust and exposes a contradiction: the government denounces aggressive xenophobic action by South African citizens, and a short while later mobilises state agencies to single out foreigners for arrest and criminal prosecution or deportation.
Find out more about MSF's work in South Africa.