A Zimbabwe native helps refugees from her country in South Africa
Terry Hodson, who now lives in South Africa, delivers food and offers comfort and advice to refugees from the troubles in neighboring Zimbabwe.
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But Zimbabweans make up the majority of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa. In the past five years, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans – some say millions – have crossed into neighboring South Africa to escape political persecution and economic destitution, according to Human Rights Watch.Skip to next paragraph
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The Zimbabwean economy has suffered from hyperinflation – it peaked at 321 million percent in October 2008, according to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph – because of policies instigated by President Robert Mugabe. Hyperinflation made it nearly impossible for Zimbabweans to buy anything with their own currency, leading many to seek opportunities in South Africa.
Recently, a new unity government has eased political tensions. And last March, Zimbabwe switched its currency to the US dollar, which squelched inflation.
South Africa has an integrated refugee policy, meaning refugees are allowed to look for jobs and housing and go to school. This is in contrast to an encampment-style policy, which separates refugees from the local population.
But the integrated policy, viewed by some as more humane, also means that refugees are left to fend for themselves – leaving many homeless, hungry, and vulnerable to exploitation.
"I think it could be [good] if they really put in a program that's going to work," Hodson says about the integrated policy. "There's no use just dumping [refugees] back in the townships."
One man staying under the bridge walks up to a volunteer Hodson brought along and asks her for a job. When she tells him that she is not from South Africa and therefore has no job to provide, he asks for a job in her country. He arrived in South Africa from Zimbabwe three days earlier, he says.
Henry, a 21-year-old from Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, has been in South Africa for nine months, but has found work for only two of those months.
"It seems like there are no jobs," he says. "If possible, I'd like to go home because home is best." Looking over his shoulder at the bridge, he adds, "In Zimbabwe, we live in our houses, but here, it is very hard."
The expense of returning to Zimbabwe is often beyond a refugee's means. The project raises funds to send home one Zimbabwean a month who wants to go back.
"If anything went right [in Zimbabwe] tomorrow, and they could get work, they would go home," Hodson says. "A lot of them just want to make a better life for their families. So they come here thinking they can make a lot of money to send back, but it doesn't work. [Then] they want to go back to their families."
With all the food gone, it's time for the Adonis Musati volunteers to go home. They pile back into their cars, leaving behind the dark underpass that these refugees call home.
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