Police fire rubber bullets in city centre

| Tariro Washinyira
Police and asylum seekers fought each other on the Cape Town foreshore today. Photo by Francois N’siku Vovelo.

A man was injured when police fired rubber bullets at a crowd of about a thousand asylum seekers earlier today at the Home Affairs Temporary Refugee Centre on Cape Town’s foreshore. Witnesses say that a nine-month-old baby was also injured.

Eye witness Francois N’siku Vovelo says that he went to Home Affairs three weeks ago to renew his asylum papers. However, his papers were only renewed until today (27 November), instead of the usual three or six months. Upon arriving at Home Affairs at about 9am today, he found hundreds of other people in the same situation. It appears most of the people affected had applied for asylum at refugee centres in other provinces.

Home Affairs in Cape Town has been ordered by a court to continue renewing asylum applications. According to refugee rights organisation, PASSOP, that court order expired today, the same day that many of the applicants in the queue were told to return to renew their applications.

Vovelo says that the asylum seekers were addressed by a Home Affairs official and told to come back next week. The asylum seekers “got angry because they are missing work and might get arrested if caught by police with expired documents. The refugees forced themselves inside [the Home Affairs offices] and demanded to be served.”

Vovelo says, “The way the giant women with dreadlocks talked to us was rude and she did not explain why they keep on turning us away. It triggered anger among asylum seekers. They started to sing ‘paper’, ‘paper’. There was chaos and Home Affairs officials called the riot police who started to fire bullets forcing the asylum seekers to depart. The refugees threw stones back at the police.”

The man who was injured is Tresor Mbuga, a Congolese national. He was taken to a hospital in Wynberg by a relative who, according to an eye witness, had to plead with police not to shoot her as she attempted to reach the injured man.

Tresor Mbuga, an asylum seeker from the DRC, was injured and taken to hospital. Photo by Francois N’siku Vovelo.

Vovelo is still awaiting decision on his application filed in 2002. He said he is tired of the six month extensions he gets. “This affects my work and I have a child and wife to feed. Last time they gave me three weeks. Today I was denied service. I could be arrested for not having a valid document.”

A group of students from Sweden who were doing their research at the refugee centre were caught in the crossfire. One told GroundUp that they have been working at the centre since last week. She said, “Today refugees were denied access and some of them who initially applied in Pretoria were told to go back to Pretoria to renew their papers even though they have been renewing here all the time. I saw a baby and a woman being pepper-sprayed and the baby cried a lot. It was outrageous, the police said to them we are here to listen, then started shooting without warning. The mob was angry.”

She said the queue for refugees who needed help was very long, curving from the building door to the main entrance, and then curving back towards the Waterfront.

Another Zimbabwean woman said even though she applied for her asylum papers at the foreshore, she was not served because of the fighting and was told to come back tomorrow. She says she saw Home Affairs Officials driving off in a van.

When GroundUp arrived at the scene police were still firing rubber bullets at refugees who ran towards the city centre. Some refugees took cover under trees and buildings, and threw stones at the police. Heerengracht Road near the circle was blocked and traffic moved slowly.

SAPS spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut, said, “Action was taken against a riotous crowd after stones were thrown at Customs House building and vehicles. The crowd was aggressive and police were duty bound to maintain law and order. This office has record of one male person being injured. Three people have been arrested for public violence.”

This story will be updated as new information is received. We have approached Home Affairs for comment.

TOPICS:  Human Rights Immigration

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