Greenmarket Square refugees have split into “two hostile groups”

Reverend Alan Storey’s church has provided shelter to hundreds of people for months but the situation has become untenable

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Photo of people living in church
Hundreds of refugees have been living inside and outside the Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town for months. Archive photo: Madison Yauger

The reverend who runs the Central Methodist Mission on Cape Town’s Greenmarket Square has expressed concern about the “fallout between the refugee leadership” at the church. Reverend Alan Storey wrote, in a statement published on Friday, that this has caused a “volatile” and “hostile” environment in the church.

Services this Sunday have been moved to Observatory’s Methodist Church.

Hundreds of refugees have been staying inside and outside the church in the city centre for months.

Storey wrote that violence broke out on 29 December following a split between two refugee leaders. This forced the police to intervene.

GroundUp has learnt that the leaders were Papy Sukami and Jean-Pierre Balous. Some of the refugees are wearing T-shirts supporting one or the other leader.

Both leaders have since been arrested: Sukami for robbery, Balous for assault. Sukami was released on bail on Thursday, while Balous appeared in court on Friday. He was granted R2,000 bail on condition that he not enter the city centre without permission.

“As a church we cannot provide sanctuary to violent groups. Nor are we equipped to deal with them. It is within this context that as a church we will now pursue other avenues to address the situation,” wrote Storey.

The refugees have been protesting for months — previously outside the UNHCR offices on St Georges Mall — before they were forcefully removed in a chaotic scene on 30 October. They have been demanding to be resettled, as a group, in another country, a demand that nearly all parties who have attempted to assist the refugees have described as unrealistic. Since then, most of the families have been living inside and outside the church.

Storey cited the “ongoing health and safety risks within the overcrowded sanctuary” and the “threat of violence between the groups” as reasons for moving Sunday’s service.

He said that the church has struggled to take steps to prevent fires and the spread of disease. The refugees have been asked to “vacate the sanctuary numerous times”.

This week the refugees, lead by Aline Bukuru, founder of Women and Children at Concern (WCC), have been meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Home Affairs and the City of Cape Town to organise a safe temporary shelter where UNHCR and Home Affairs can interview and screen the refugees on an individual basis.

However JP Smith, Mayco Member for Safety and Security for the City of Cape Town, told GroundUp that a temporary shelter was “not on the cards”.

CORRECTION: The original headline of this article was misleading and has been changed.

TOPICS:  Immigration

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