Another refugee leader in court as talks to resolve Methodist Church stalement continue

2020-01-06 20:02
Papy Sukami at the Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Papy Sukami at the Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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A second leader of the refugees and asylum seekers living in the Methodist Church in Cape Town made an appearance in court on Monday.

Papi Sukami appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court to face two charges of robbery.

He is alleged to have assaulted a woman and a man in October and robbed them of cellphones, money and other items.

The case was postponed to January 9 for further investigation and the State intends opposing bail.

READ: Tension mounts amid refugee leadership tussle at Cape Town church

On Friday, another leader, JP Balous, appeared in the same court on assault charges. He will return to court on January 10.

The two had been at the forefront of a bid by around 600 men, women and children to get the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate them to a country other than their country of origin.

They cited risks to their personal safety as a result of being foreign nationals.

However, they had a falling out recently, making various accusations against each other.

Talks underway

Meanwhile, talks are underway with advocate Seth Nthai, among others, to mediate a resolution to the situation at the church. The Reverend Alan Storey has requested those living there to make alternate plans for accommodation, but the group has not shrunk significantly.

The group was previously evicted by the police from the Waldorf Arcade in October, where they were holding a sit-in in the hope that the UNHCR would heed their call for relocation.

They sought refuge at the Central Methodist Mission on Greenmarket Square, sleeping on the floor and between pews.

At one point, they said they were going to walk to Namibia, but this appears to have fallen through.

There still appears to be two camps - one aligned to Sukami and another to Balous - with the leaders of the opposing sides situating themselves outside on Greenmarket Square, or inside the church. In the middle is a large group of women and children living in sweltering conditions.

Individual assessments

SA Human Rights Commission commissioner Chris Nissen told News24 that among the matters that would hopefully be resolved was a proposal to find a place where the Department of Home Affairs could conduct individual assessments to determine whether the individuals have a place to stay in South Africa when they leave the church.

A meeting between various departments and agencies was held with refugee representatives at the Cape Town Central police station on Monday to air all the issues that the refugees have.

However, small arguments are breaking out among the foreign nationals as they live in close quarters with no proper ablutions or privacy for themselves or their belongings.

While waiting for the leaders to emerge from the meeting at the police station, an argument started over an accusation that a pair of shoes one refugee was wearing had been pilfered from another.

The police, who had been monitoring the situation outside the meeting, settled the matter by making the previous wearer say what size the shoes were. 

They were duly handed over to their rightful owner to the satisfaction of the group while the other refugee padded around the pavement in his socks. 

A man who identified himself as a spokesperson for the refugees living outside the church, Crispin Mongwe, said their priority at present was to ensure their safety.

They are also hoping that the UNHCR will approach Namibian and Zambian authorities to host them as they still want to leave South Africa. 

"That could be our best choice because our lives are in danger."

A similar situation played itself out in Pretoria, but the group was removed to the Lindela repatriation centre in Randfontein. They were confirmed as refugees or asylum seekers and were encouraged to leave the centre to find suitable accommodation.

Read more on:    cape town  |  refugees  |  migrants

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