Business Day/Sapa, 28 May 2008

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Conditions for victims of xenophobic attacks at Onderstepoort, north of Pretoria, are bad and unhygienic, with one displaced immigrant likening the camp to “a pigsty”. Refugees from Somalia (the largest group), Burundi, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo , Uganda and Eritrea are crammed together in a camp for 200 people, but the place is overpopulated, with more than 2000 people — including babies as young as six months, disabled people, pregnant women — all living together. Making conditions worse, there are no water taps, electricity, food or enough blankets. Only two portable toilets are standing in the yard for use by almost everyone. Some men sleep under the trees, with burning tyres to keep them warm at night. Adults and children survive on a handful of small packets of biscuits a day, without water, and infants are provided with 350ml of milk powder — which is difficult to prepare as there is no warm water on the premises . Military workers were seen yesterday erecting tents around an open field. According to Amey Abdikarin from Somalia, who has lived there since last week, these tents will accommodate 50 people each. Food items are sold nearby at a cost ranging from R10 to R50 a plate. A typical meal is a plate of rice and mixed vegetables. The African National Congress (ANC) and the government have been condemned by many victims for having failed people from other African countries . Matthew Chaba, a refugee from Congo, said: “We don’t want any sort of help from the South African government. We need them to hand the responsibility into the hands of the United Nations (UN). SA has failed us as it is causing more problems than the problems caused by our attackers.” He said the UN had the answers to their problems. “The South African police members harass us day in and day out. Maybe it is because we cannot speak Zulu or Sotho,” said Chaba. He said the government was rudely deporting people instead of sending them home in a dignified manner. Abdul, a Somalian , said: “The ANC government has failed us foreigners. I stayed in SA for 15 years, but I cannot be recognised by the government as a national, unlike in other countries where I could have gained citizenship. My message to fellow Africans is, please let us stop fighting each other.” Maria Mwera, a mother of three children, from Congo, said the living conditions were bad for her and her children. “The U N should come and help us with food and sanitary equipment. We are just eating biscuits and sleeping on the grass — it is so terrible.” She said her children were forced out of school in Pretoria because of the xenophobic attacks. She said she did not wish to go back to Congo as rebels were attacking people there. This claim was supported by Ngalula Kabamuswe, who said her husband was killed back at home in Congo by rebels, and she was all alone in SA. Home affairs officials were seen walking around the camp, but refused to comment on the situation. Several institutions, including the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and national carrier South African Airways (SAA), have offered funding totalling more than R20m to xenophobia victims. The DBSA and the Industrial Development Corporation said they had set up a R20m fund to support humanitarian relief. SAA CE Khaya Ngqula said the airline would donate about R750000 to the Red Cross for food, blankets, clothes and medical aid for the refugees. Another R250000 would be given to the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg.