In 7 working days, City of Cape Town can enforce bylaws on refugees living outside church

2020-02-17 18:08
Refugees and asylum seekers living in squalor outside the Central Methodist Mission Church on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town. (Jan Gerber, News24)

Refugees and asylum seekers living in squalor outside the Central Methodist Mission Church on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town. (Jan Gerber, News24)

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In seven working days, the City of Cape Town can enforce its bylaws on the refugees and asylum seekers living outside the Central Methodist Mission church on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town.

This after Judge Daniel Thulare granted an interim order to the City in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

He also ordered the City to, within seven days, arrange a venue where the Department of Home Affairs can process the refugees and asylum seekers, with the City to provide transport. The City must further process refugees and asylum seekers who are in distress, Judge Thulare ordered.

This was delivered in rule nisi, which allows the refugees and asylum seekers until March 17 - one month away - to show cause why a final order should not be granted.

The interim order means that, while the City can't remove people from the church, it can enforce the bylaw on the people staying outside the church, with one of the bylaws prohibiting people from staying overnight in a public area.

This effectively means the people living outside the church, can no longer do so. 

In December, the City asked the court for an order to prevent the refugees from flouting bylaws and disrupting business on Greenmarket Square, and to prevent them from threatening, harassing or intimidating City officials.

Interim order

In terms of Monday's interim order, the refugees and asylum seekers may not do the following:

  • Intimidate, threaten, harass or interfere in any way with City officials;
  • Damage City property;
  • Prevent people from entering or leaving the area; and
  • Contravene bylaws, in particular by staying overnight, making fires, washing clothes, attend to personal hygiene, and occupying or erecting a structure in public spaces.

In October, a sit-in began at the Waldorf Arcade on St George's Mall in Cape Town, where the offices of the United Nation High Commission for Refugees is housed.

The refugees demanded that they be relocated to a country other than their country of origin, citing fears of xenophobia in South Africa.

The UNHCR made it clear that they could not be accommodated as a group, and that only individual cases would be assessed.

The police then effected a court order to remove them from the arcade, after which they sought refuge in and around the church, with many living in squalor.

The City alleged that its officials were threatened and harassed. There was also an instance in November where a delegation of interfaith leaders and a SA Human Rights Commission commissioner were allegedly attacked inside the church.

Thulare said the group's presence caused harm to the businesses in the vicinity, particularly the hospitality industry and the Greenmarket Square vendors.

'A person who is suffering has nothing to lose'

He said anybody not agreeing with the group's "unrealistic demands" were declared an enemy and threatened and harassed.

They had effectively established a self-governing entity in the city centre, he said.

"No one has the right to be a law unto themselves," Thulare said. "The City is well within its rights to enforce the rule of law."

The judge was also scathing about the two purported leaders of the refugees and asylum seekers, Jean-Pierre Balous and Papi Sukami. 

He said they had tried to deceive the other members of the group, as they were aware that their protest would not lead to housing being provided to them. He said Balous's proficiency in English, allowed him to distort information to the others, who are not all as proficient in English.

He said the majority of the respondents were vulnerable due to language barriers and their status as refugees or asylum seekers, and that Balous and Sukami abused this vulnerability.

He described the protest as "ungovernable, used to achieve unattainable goals".

Both Balous and Sukami are standing trial in other matters. Balous on charges of assault and Sukami on robbery.

After proceedings, both disparaged the judgment outside the court.

Sukami said he was not satisfied with the ruling. He said the City had the resources to help them and called on the UNHRC to help.

'No justice for refugees in SA'

Balous described Thulare's ruling as a "nonsense judgment" and claimed the world would now see how South Africa treated refugees.

"A person who is suffering, has nothing to lose. They can do whatever they want. If they [the City] want to kill, then come and kill."

"There is no justice for refugees in South Africa."

At the case's previous hearing, the court heard that an agreement had been reached between the City and the Department of Home Affairs and that, for seven days, a shuttle would take the refugees and asylum seekers to the Salt River Hall for document verification.

Read more on:    cape town  |  refugees
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