‘No way are we going to leave’

2020-02-25 06:02
Refugees outside the Central Methodist Church. PHOTOS: kaylynne bantom

Refugees outside the Central Methodist Church. PHOTOS: kaylynne bantom

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All you can hear entering the Central Methodist Mission church is the sound of children laughing and playing.

There are babies crying, wanting to be fed.

You see parents sitting on makeshift mattresses, tending to their families.

The church benches are covered with blankets ready to be used as beds at night.

This is the picture that meets visitors to the church in Greenmarket Square.

It is here where hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers have been living – in and outside the church – for the past four months.

They sought refuge in the church after police forcefully dispersed a sit-in protest near the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the city centre in October last year.

According to a News24 report, the protest followed incidents of xenophobic violence which began to break out two months earlier.

The refugees want the UNHCR to remove them from South Africa.

On Monday 17 February, the Western Cape High Court granted an urgent application in favour of the City of Cape Town.

The ruling by judge Daniel Thulare gives the City and the department of home affairs seven days to process all foreign nationals outside the church.

“No order is sought against the respondents inside the church,” a statement released by the City read.

A spokesperson for the refugees Aline Bukuru described the ruling as “unfair”. She said the judge denied that there was xenophobia in South Africa.

“He said we need to leave but he didn’t say where we are going to,” she said.

Bukuru said that, as refugees, they had rights too, but she felt that their rights were not being considered.

On Wednesday 21 February, the verification process of the refugees living outside got under way. They were transported in groups to Salt River where officials from the department of home affairs verified their nationality and details.

Richard Bosman, excutive director for the department of safety and security, says: “We would like to put on record that our first obligation is to give effect to the court order. The City understands that there are a number of variables that could arise. We will consider these, should there be a need, and make the best decision under the circumstances.”

The refugees living inside the church are staying put. Bukuru says: “No way are we going to leave. They say we must go back to the community we came from. How can we, it is not safe there.”

Alan Storey, a reverend at the church, says: “My hope is that this judgment will draw all those involved in this protest closer to the truth of their own situation and move them to vacate the area and the church as soon as possible.”

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