MPs give Home Affairs and City a tongue lashing over refugee camps

Parliament’s portfolio committee on Home Affairs to conduct oversight visit

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The male-only marquee at the refugee camp in Bellville where MPs are expected to conduct an oversight visit soon. Archive photo: Tariro Washinyira

  • Members of Parliament are to conduct oversight visit to two refugee camps in Cape Town.
  • Repatriation on the cards for refugees who refuse to leave the camps.
  • MP remarks on the lack of a working relationship between the City and Home Affairs.

Members of Parliament (MPs) say an urgent oversight visit to the Bellville and Kensington refugee camps in Cape Town is needed before people can be sent back into the communities they left last year.

MPs also warned that those refusing to be reintegrated will instead be repatriated.

The portfolio committee on Home Affairs was being briefed by the City of Cape Town, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), and the United Nations High Commissioner (UNHCR) on refugees in the city on Tuesday.

The protest by the refugee groups started in October 2019 and made headlines across the country when they first staged a sit-in at the UNHCR offices in St George’s Mall. They were removed in a chaotic operation and ended up spending months occupying the Central Methodist Church and Greenmarket Square until April 2020. Many of the refugees were then moved to camps in Kensington and Bellville by the City at the start of lockdown.

SAHRC said some families who volunteered were reintegrated. The process took about two months, it said.

Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, had warned the protesting refugees to return to the communities they lived in before the sit-in last year or face being sent to their original countries.

In its parliamentary presentation, the City blamed Home Affairs for not showing interest in the refugees at the camps. “Refugees and asylum seekers don’t fall under the mandate of the local government. Refugees and asylum seekers remain the responsibility of Home Affairs,” it said.

“At a meeting on 16 October, Home Affairs was confirmed as the leading agency in this process. Unfortunately, the representative of Home Affairs could not attend. Complaints were received in the meeting that refugees and asylum seekers said they do not have documents in order to gain access to schools or hospitals or work,” the City said.

In response, Motsoaledi said that the lockdown had set back plans to reintegrate the group. “When refugees were moved to the Bellville site, evacuation was carried by the SAPS, officials from Home Affairs, Public Works, Social Development and Health.”

ANC MP Mosa Chabane said: “We need to understand the conditions our African brothers and sisters are subjected to and practically come up with a plan on how we can intervene as a Parliament. Those that are failing to implement, such as the City and Home Affairs, must take responsibility. We need to ensure that all the laws are implemented in the interest of human rights. These two bodies must help us resolve this matter.”

IFP MP Liezel Van der Merwe said that documenting the refugees should have continued during lockdown. “I am dismayed by the absolute lack of a working relationship between Home Affairs and the City.”

EFF MP Mgcini Tshwaku said, “An oversight visit is necessary to assess their living conditions. There are children and women who need to be integrated into society for their health and other needs.”

A date for the oversight visit to the camps is yet to be announced.

TOPICS:  Refugees

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