Hope farm refugee crisis turns hopeless

2016-06-07 10:28

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Pietermaritzburg - A group of refugees who are refusing to leave the farm of KwaZulu-Natal “Good Samaritan” Andrew Wartnaby don’t want to be repatriated to their former countries or resettled inside South Africa.

They want to be resettled in another country.

This was said in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday by the group’s legal aid attorney Ashok Kaloo in connection with an application to evict the refugees from the farm “Hope” in Cato Ridge owned by Wartnaby.

The case was adjourned by Judge Kate Pillay so that the refugees can file answering court papers. When the case returns to court on June 17 it is expected that a date for trial will be determined.

Wartnaby and his wife had previously opened up their farm to accommodate a large group of refugees, mostly from Burundi and the Congo, in the wake of xenophobic violence that broke out in KZN in 2015.

Wartnaby describes himself as a subsistence farmer who keeps chickens, eggs and vegetables to feed his family. He said in an affidavit the refugees moved onto his farm in terms of a verbal agreement reached between him and the Access to Justice Association of Southern Africa. Wartnaby’s role was to provide a temporary place for the refugees to stay while mediation took place.

The majority, numbering around 103 people, had since left the farm but the remaining group do not wish to leave and the situation has become “volatile”.

The court papers names the alleged “ringleader” as Vital Mshimimana and 21 others.

Wartnaby said he and his family are now living in fear for their lives due to alleged threats made by the refugees still remaining on the farm who during violent protest action had prevented the family from leaving the property.

Wartnaby said he and his family — his wife Rae and eight children (including his biological and adopted children) — managed to “sneak” off the farm after the situation became “volatile” on April 14 and 15 this year when police had to be called in.

They escaped to a location which he refuses to disclose as their lives are in danger, he said.

Wartnaby said since attempts to mediate the situation had failed, he was forced to approach the high court for help. “Currently the situation on the farm is not conducive to enable me to enjoy the fruits of my farm or provide for my family,” said Wartnaby.

He said he is facing possible bankruptcy and he is still not able to live on his farm. An emergency meeting was called last month by the office of the KZN premier and attended by representatives of the Department of Social Development, the SA Police and United Nations representative George Kuchio.

At the meeting the refugees were given an option to accept a resettlement package. Individuals were offered R3 000 and families R7 500, as well as five days in a hotel as part of the package on offer, said Wartnaby. They rejected the offer.

Wartnaby said he and his family continued to be threatened and he was scared that the refugees would burn his farm and kill him and his family. Their actions constitute a serious threat to his constitutional rights to ownership of property and were unlawful, he said.

He submitted that it was likely that the illegal occupiers would invade his house . “They have become extremely violent and the police even had a tough time controlling their anger,” he said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  refugee  |  court  |  farm

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