Progress with refugees at Joburg church

All unaccompanied children have been moved from the Central Methodist Church, in central Johannesburg, to a Soweto shelter, or been reunited with family, the DA said today.

“There are currently 53 children at the Soweto Youth Centre, looked after by four caregivers,” Democratic Alliance health spokesperson in Gauteng Jack Bloom said.

“Reunification services are under way for 17 children at the centre who were found to have some of their parents or next of kin at the church or elsewhere in Gauteng,” he said.

This was contained in a report by the Gauteng health and social development department to the health committee in the Gauteng legislature.

Bloom said it was “unfortunate” that a child was allegedly raped at the church and said “control measures” need to be tightened there.

He said the report to the health committee explained the child had been reunited with her aunt and a suspect had been arrested.

There were still about 1 000 refugees, mostly Zimbabwean, at the church. Bloom said 500 of them would be moved to the nearby Moths building, a shelter for homeless people.

“I am pleased that progress is being made in easing the plight of refugees at the church whose continuing misery shames us all.”

In January, church head Reverend Paul Verryn was suspended for allegedly not doing enough about allegations of sexual abuse of children on the premises. The suspension was lifted in May.

In October last year the church, which at the time housed about 3 000 refugees and was labelled a health hazard, was almost closed after a visit by the Gauteng legislature’s health and social development portfolio committee.

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