By Isra Shah on
Matt Damon visited a Zimbabwean refugee camp in the South African border town of Musina on Tuesday.
The actor and board member of the human rights organization Not On Our Watch invited members of the Associated Press to join him on his trip as a part of a high profile effort to raise awareness about the region’s ongoing humanitarian crises.
Nearly three million people have fled Zimbabwe as a result of the seemingly endless series of catastrophes that have occurred in the country. Political upheaval, state-sponsored violence, and a chronic AIDS epidemic have long plagued Zimbabwe; now an outbreak of cholera and crippling inflation due to the economic crisis have made life nearly impossible for millions of its citizens.
Making the illegal and dangerous journey across the border to South Africa does not mean the end of one’s hardships, however. While it is estimated that 6,000 people flee the country on a daily basis, many make a return trip within days with groceries and other necessities for their families; the United Nations World Food Programme estimates that nearly half the population, seven million people, are in need of food assistance. For those seeking permanent escape from their native land, the journey means paying exorbitant fees to guides, crossing the crocodile-infested Limpopo River and entering South Africa through holes in the fence that marks the border between the two nations. Aid agencies are reporting an increase in sexual violence against women and are raising concerns over the growing trend of unaccompanied children making the trek into South Africa.
At the crowded camp center that Damon visited in Musina, 5,000 of these refugees have camped out across a sandy strip of land. Some have managed to house themselves in makeshift plastic structures, while others simply sleep on cardboard pieces with their personal belongings scattered about them. The camp is equipped with only a dozen toilets and a few taps to provide running water. Calling the living conditions “untenable,” Damon added that observing camp life at the refugee center was a “testament of the situation across the border in Zimbabwe.”
After listening to a story of a woman who was raped at the home of a taxi driver who promised her a job and a boy who had obtained legal asylum in South Africa but had nowhere to go, Damon emphasized that “action has to be taken” by the world community.
“To know that there are these kids who should be in school, who deserve to be, who didn’t create any of this mess is shocking and sad,” he said.
To this end, Damon has pledged his support by using his “celebrity capital” to raise awareness about the situation in Zimbabwe. Not On Our Watch – the international advocacy group that Damon founded along with George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, David Pressman, and Jerry Weintraub – has a declared mission of “drawing upon the powerful voices of artists, activists, and cultural leaders” to protect the vulnerable, marginalized, and displaced. "I feel it is morally incumbent, (that) if we who can get coverage, get coverage for something like this, than for the latest shampoo," Damon said. He hopes that his latest efforts will help put public pressure on state leaders to provide support for Zimbabwe to resolve its issues.
Get informed on the latest efforts of Damon’s organization, Not on Our Watch, and learn how to get involved at the official website).
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