Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wake up, say aid agencies

Waiting for the SA gubbermunt to give a shit ... zZZzzZZzzzzz ...

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Durban NGOs say they are appalled by the lack of action from local authorities in helping refugees since the xenophobic violence spread to the province last week.

Provincial and city authorities have been criticised for "sitting in meetings" while aid agencies struggle to cope with the masses of refugees seeking their help.

But Durban residents have been praised by aid organisations for their outpouring of care for the victims. Daily News readers have responded generously to Operation ReachOut with donations ranging from R50 to R20 000 to add to the initial R250 000 donation to the fund from Independent Newspapers.

On Tuesday, Sherylle Dass, chairperson of the Durban Refugee Service Providers Network, asked why the municipality and government have not co-ordinated relief efforts. The network is made up of NGOs who help foreigners and refugees with social and legal matters. "It is the local government who needs to take charge. They are empowered to act in these situations, yet we cannot even get hold of anyone at the disaster centre," she said.

She said NGOs are doing the "groundwork" and helping refugees but it is the duty of the government and local authorities to take control. "These refugees are scared and do not know where else to turn, but we do not have the capacity and resources to handle this."

Roland Vernon, communications officer for Diakonia Council of Churches, said the people of Durban have been generous in providing goods for refugees. "The response to a call for aid has been overwhelming.

Faith organisations and companies have been collecting items and dropping them off at the various areas where help is needed," he said. Derek Naidoo, provincial manager of the SA Red Cross, said aid agencies are concerned about the "lack of a central point for aid".

The SA Human Rights Commission (HRC) has also raised concerns over the lack of coordination.

Other aid organisations have said they do not have the capacity to help the huge numbers of displaced people. They also claim the authorities seem to be "sitting in meetings" with no action being taken. Dass said she estimates there are nearly 1 800 people who have been displaced in the region, although no proper statistics have been kept.

Speaking on behalf of KwaZulu-Natal Premier S'bu Ndebele during a legislature sitting in Dondotha outside Empangeni on Tuesday, local government MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu said the KwaZulu-Natal government had appointed a team to set up a co-ordinated strategy to quell the attacks and help refugees.

eThekwini municipal authorities have said they have no plans to establish fixed refugee centres in the city, saying they were instead offering humanitarian support at churches and police stations that have borne the brunt of the influx of foreigners.

However, municipal head of international and government relations, Eric Apelgren, said they have been in meetings to establish a municipal disaster management centre. "We have met with representatives from local government, police and NGOs to establish a central point which will be based at the existing Durban Disaster Management Centre," he said. The team has been working on proposals for funding to "ensure funds to coordinate relief and repatriation efforts". He said it should be operational by the end of the week.

Chairperson of the council's health, safety and social services committee, Nomvuso Shabalala, said community halls had been opened and portable toilets had been provided at the Emmanuel Cathedral. "We are helping out where we can but don't have any camps. That function is not ours as the municipality but we are helping out because it is in our jurisdiction," she said.

Deputy mayor Logie Naidoo said efforts would be stepped up to assist displaced people.

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