Soetwater Refugee Camp

In 2008, xenophobic attacks in South Africa resulted in the displacement of more than 15,000 African foreigners. South Africa is famous for its spirit of Ubuntu, but the media images presented did not show this collective African unity.

There were many displays of positive human spirit opposing the negative forces that arose during the crisis. The volunteers in the refugee camps demonstrated tireless commitment, kindness and compassion. The city council provided a basic infrastructure and a skeleton staff, but it was the volunteers who fulfilled the majority of the service delivery roles. Various members of the surrounding communities responded constructively to the crisis by donating time, money, clothes, food and medical aid.

Several common threads emerged from my conversations with the refugees. They had spent weeks journeying from their trouble-stricken countries to arrive in South Africa for a new, promising start, leaving their families behind. Those making the journey to South Africa arrived with the hope that they would be able to send money back home to support their families. They had given up a lot to be in South Africa, so a peaceful resolution to the unrest was desired by all of them.

These photographs demonstrate the strength and forbearance shown by many of the foreigners in the face of adversity - illustrating that within the worst scenarios can be found many positive human qualities. In the media, portrayals of refugees as victims flooded the newspaper stands. In my experience, the refugees showed great strength of character.

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Refugees photo essay Refugees photo essay Refugees photo essay Refugees photo essay
Refugees photo essay Refugees photo essay Refugees photo essay Refugees photo essay
Refugees photo essay Refugees photo essay Refugees photo essay
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