Cape Town refugees: Cops move in to remove informal structures outside Methodist church

Refugees with their makeshift shelters outside the Central Methodist Mission Church on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town.
Refugees with their makeshift shelters outside the Central Methodist Mission Church on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town.
Jan Gerber, News24

Refugees living around the Central Methodist Mission Church in Cape Town are currently being removed along with their belongings.

This comes after the Western Cape High Court granted the City of Cape Town an interim order in February, stating that the City can enforce its by-laws on the refugees and asylum seekers living outside the church on Greenmarket Square.

Videos and media reports on Sunday showed police and law enforcement officers lining up to begin the removal process, with some refugees putting up a fight, as their temporary homes for the last few months were being cleared.

"The refugees were apprised of the provisions of the court order, so they have known for more than 10 days that the enforcement operation was coming," said mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith on Sunday.

"The City, supported by the South African Police Service and the Central City Improvement District moved into the space this morning, in a bid to bring an end to what has been an untenable situation."

The city was also not in a position to provide emergency shelter to the group, "given the great need that exists among South Africans, not to mention the precedent that it would set," Smith said in his statement.

He appealed to the refugees to return to the homes they had originally vacated.

"It is not legally or practically possible for the City to supply accommodation and no other sphere of government has agreed to supply such either."

Some of the refugees have since moved to St Mary's Catholic Church near Parliament, Newzroom Afrika reported.

One affected refugee is seen shouting at law enforcement: "Where is your ubuntu?! … Every day ubuntu, ubuntu, but where is your ubuntu?!" EWN reported.

eNCA reported on Saturday that the refugees, who have been occupying the church for four months, were most likely to be removed this weekend after the verification process.

The court's ruling did not include the refugees living inside the church, meaning that while the City can't remove people from the church, it can enforce by-laws on people living outside the church. One of the by-laws prohibits people from staying overnight in a public area, News24 previously reported.

The refugees have been living in and around the church since October last year, after they were forcibly removed from a previous sit-in protest outside the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) near St George's Mall.

They want to be relocated to another country over fears of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

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

Western Cape police did not formally comment at the time of publication. Comment will be added once received.

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