Even the president will have to state his business: Refugees defend access control to Cape Town church

2020-01-28 14:45
A general view of refugees at the Central Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square.

A general view of refugees at the Central Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square. (Photo by Gallo Images/ Brenton Geach)

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Even the president would have to state his business before he entered the Cape Town Central Methodist Mission, where hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers have stayed put since October, with their own access controls in place.  

"Being a refugee does not make a person stupid," said JP Balous, testifying in the Western Cape High Court on behalf of the large group.

"Every human being has the right to respect and dignity," said Balous in a packed court, as he countered some of the City of Cape Town's reasons for an application to be able to enforce its bylaws in the area around the church where refugees are camping. 

Balous accused the SA Human Rights Commission's Chris Nissen of causing divisions among them. 

He defended the group's turning away of the food, nappies and blankets that Gift of the Givers were bringing them, saying they were "suspicious". He also accused other NGOs of "looting".

Cook outside church

He said that, in terms of the South African Constitution, they had the right to freedom of association, and could not be forced to accept a certain charity. 

However, because they had no food, they cooked outside - one of the bylaws that the City says is being broken.

The City of Cape Town's lawyer advocate Con Joubert SC said the City could not evict the people in the church, because that was not its jurisdiction.

However, it should be able to enforce its bylaws, and that the refugees must abide by the laws of the City and of the country.

The City and the Department of Home Affairs started a seven-day programme this week to bus the refugees and asylum seekers in and around the church to the Salt River Hall to have their documents verified.

Joubert said the City was not required to provide alternative accommodation, because there was no mention of homelessness on any papers filed. 

refugees,immigrants,South Africa,violence,Cape Tow

(Photo by Gallo Images/ Brenton Geach)

However, Balous said the notices offering to take people to the Salt River Hall could be from anybody, and questioned their authenticity. 

Regarding where to live, Balous said South Africa was a settlement country, and was therefore required to provide accommodation and assistance to refugees. 

Want to be relocated to another country

A sit-in began at the Waldorf Arcade on St George's Mall in Cape Town, and outside the UNHCR Refugee Agency's offices in Pretoria on October 7 and 8 last year.

They demanded that they be relocated to a country other than their country of origin, citing fears of xenophobia.

The UNHCR made it clear that it was not going to happen to people as a group, and that only individual cases would be assessed. 

In October, the police effected a court order to remove them from the arcade.

READ | The journey of a 9-year-old in search of a better life in South Africa: 'I thought I would be shot'

Scenes of chaos played out, with stun grenades being fired, and women screaming as their children were taken from them. 

More than 100 people were arrested, but later released without charge. 

The Reverend Alan Storey invited them into the church to take shelter as they stood on Greenmarket Square with their bags.

Since then they have kept up their call to be relocated. At one point they said they would walk to Namibia, but have said that a small group which tried this was turned away. 

In the meantime, the City of Cape Town and the church have expressed concern about hygiene, cramped living conditions, and finding a solution to the problem.

READ | Greenmarket Square refugees reject City of Cape Town’s offer of reintegration

The traders at the Greenmarket Square have also complained that the conditions of people living on the periphery of the church is putting visitors off, and affecting their income.

The City says it merely wants to be able to enforce its bylaws.

The case continues. 

 


Read more on:    cape town  |  refugees
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