No refuge at Tongogara Camp

refugees_tongogaraTONGOGARA Dusty and dilapidated huts are dotted across the barren landscape as small, malnourished children loiter in the shade at the Tongogara Refuge Camp in the Chipinge district of Zimbabwe. (Pictured:- Instead of finding a place of safety at the refugee camp in Tongogara, re

The camp is the only refugee sanctuary in Zimbabwe, and it is home to 4 025 refugees who live in squalid conditions. After experiencing miserable lives as victims of war, many refugees from other African countries assumed that Zimbabwe would be step up. They hoped to find employment in the various mining sectors around the country, but with the average Zimbabwean facing unemployment, the refugees soon found that there hopes were impossible.

Instead of finding themselves in The Promised Land, the refugees now find themselves in hell.

Since March 2010, 25 refugees have died with the local NGOs saying the deaths were largely caused by disease outbreaks at the camp. The Permanent Secretary for Labour and Social Services, Lancaster Museka, confirmed the deaths, but said there were no disease outbreaks at the camp.

A total of 25 refugees have died at Tongogara since the beginning of the year. There is, however, no specific common diseases claiming lives at Tongogara Refuge Camp and there has never been a disease outbreak there, said Museka.

Museka added that all the nationalities were equally affected.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) refugees have suffered the most with five deaths. The number of these deaths recorded is a reflection of the camp population ratios, explained Museka.

The DRC have the highest representative population of 2 769. The refugees come from countries including DRC, Angola, Uganda, Zambia, Lebanon and Eritrea, Sudan, Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Burundi among others.

Cholera and TB strike

Various NGOs working in Chipinge district that encompasses Tongogara Refugee Camp said the major causes of deaths at the camp were cholera and tuberculosis.

There are also cases of HIV infections in the camp caused by the heavy presence of prostitution.

A visit by The Zimbabwean last weekend revealed that all was not well at the camp.

We are hungry and sick here. There is no food at all. They are giving us poor and little food that is not adequate to us. We cannot sustain those little food rations. It is a miracle that we are surviving under these conditions, said Ruki Naituve from Rwanda.

In interviews, the refugees claimed that they receive 1kg of sugar, 250g of salt, 10 kg mealie meal and 2kg beans per individual per month.

The Zimbabwe government and the United Nations (UN) supply food to the refugees.

Many of us have been suffering from diarrhoea and there is no doctor to treat us when we are sick. On many occasions there is no medication at the clinic and we are referred to Chipinge hospital which is far away, said Tom Guican from DRC.

Women said they have resorted to using cloth as sanitary protection. They said they could not afford to buy the sanitary wares as the prices were far beyond their reach and most of them did not have any source of income since they were in a foreign land.

The affected women said they have been stripped of their dignity and appealed to donors to assist in this regard.

Sanitary pads are a basic need for any women. Life has been hard for us because no one is providing that for us. Girls are now using pieces of cloth. This exposes us to diseases, complained one woman from Rwanda.

Women said life in the camp was unbearable and wished to return to their places as soon as there is political stability in their countries.

Women suffer a lot during conflict times. Imagine I have to fend for my family and at the same time I need money to buy sanitary ware, said one woman from Burundi who preferred anonymity.

Naume Elungo Moneka (25) from Bukavu province in DRC said since his arrival at Tongogara Refugee camp two years ago, she had never received any sanitary ware.

She said prostitution was rife in the camp as young girls tried to eke a decent living.

Little girls as little as 15 years are sleeping around with men here to raise money to buy pads. There is hunger here and young girls are exchanging sex for food or money to buy sanitary ware, she said.

Women said cases of HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies were likely to rise if the issue of poverty is not eradicated in the camp.

The authorities must surely do something here. Yes, we ran away from war in DRC, but this is not what I expected here. I am contemplating going back home. I cannot see myself continuing living under these conditions, said a visibly disturbed Guican.

Tribal clashes

Besides hunger and diseases, there have been violent ethnic and tribal clashes within races at the camp.

What I can say is that the clashes are not all that serious or violent. It is just small disturbances emanating from friction amongst the refugees that usually manifest in the disruption of normal camp activities, said Museka.

The refugees at the camp told ***The Zimbabwean that there were serious clashes between races.

Museka confirmed that five Burundians were deported in July this year as a result of the tribal clashes. He said the government was working with the international community to facilitate the repatriation of Rwanda nationals in the camp.

For other nationals we are still monitoring the situations in their countries of origins. If there are any improvements then we can discuss possible repatriation for them, he said.

The source said the issue has been taken up to President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Immigration officials and the Ministry of Labour and Social Services who are dealing with the case.

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