City to go back to court over refugee crisis in central Cape Town

Only one refugee said they were willing to return to the broader community

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Photo of people on a pavement
Refugees evicted from Greenmarket Square have now camped a few metres away from the Cape Town Police Station. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

On Monday morning at a media briefing Mayco Member for Safety and Security JP Smith said the City will approach the Western Cape High Court for clarity on the role of the police (SAPS) regarding the refugee situation in the centre of Cape Town.

The City is trying to bring to an end the nearly six-month occupation of the Greenmarket Square area. On 17 February, Judge Daniel Thulare granted an interim order that effectively prohibited refugees who are staying inside and outside the Central Methodist Mission from living on the street.

On Sunday, the City enforced its bylaws and removed the refugees from the square. They have now camped a few metres away from the Cape Town police station. The refugees have been demanding to be resettled in other countries because they say they are not safe in South Africa.

Smith said that during the process of verifying the refugees’ documentation only one person said they were willing to return to the broader community. The demand remains to be relocated as refugees to another country.

“The City has also offered night shelter options to the refugees where over 170 beds are available. A few refugees were willing to take up the offer but were stopped by their leaders. The leaders are putting pressure on people not to leave,” said Smith.

He told GroundUp that “the court order said that people are not allowed to stay around Greenmarket Square any more and if they erect any shelters on any public spheres they are in contempt of court. Clause 3 of the judgement says the sheriff of court with the assistance of SAPS may act to ensure compliance.”

“At McKenzie Street Park, officials engaged refugees. At first there was hostility but they later voluntarily agreed to walk to the police station. At the police station, SAPS declined to detain anybody and created this complication.

“SAPS is now saying that if we want them to detain anybody, we should go back to court. The court should clarify section three of the court order in terms of SAPS responsibility in this regard,” he said.

“When the original eviction took place in October with SAPS also there, more than 100 people were arrested for public violence. When they got to the police station, senior SAPS officials insisted they get released and were not detained. So there are problems with SAPS interpreting their responsibility,” said Smith.

Inside the Central Methodist church there are notices in English, French and Lingala that read: “Dear Refugees, I am asking you again to vacate the church. Please do so with immediate effect. Thank you, Pastor Alan Storey.”

Refugee leader Aline Bukuru said that they are asking the people of the church and the reverend to continue showing them compassion. If they are thrown out of the church they will join the other refugees on the streets.

She also said she is appealing to organisations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to assist with children and women’s needs.

Heinn Shin, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said: “The absolute majority of refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa are hard-working people who provide for themselves. Protesting will not resolve issues, and certainly, no preferential treatment will be offered by UNHCR or our partners, to the persons with the loudest voice.

“Refugees, just like any South African national, must abide by the laws and order of the country that hosts them.”

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TOPICS:  Immigration

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