Police called in as refugees jump UNHCR walls in Pretoria

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Refugees have been camping outside of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees offices in Pretoria.  (Alex Mitchley, News24)
Refugees have been camping outside of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees offices in Pretoria. (Alex Mitchley, News24)

A case of trespassing has been opened against a group of refugees, who on Thursday moved onto the premises of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria. 

On Wednesday, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ordered that the refugees vacate the area within three days of the order being served on them. 

READ | Refugee sit-in: Demonstration not illegal, say the police

They have been living on the pavements, in tents and makeshift structures, outside the offices since the beginning of October. 

Hundreds of refugees are asking to be resettled in another country, as they fear xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Their presence led to an urgent application by the Waterkloof Homeowners' Association and Brooklyn and Eastern Areas Citizens' Association, which was granted. 

PICS | Refugees enter third week of sit-in protest outside UNHCR offices in Pretoria

On Thursday morning, police were called after the refugees jumped the walls and gates of the UNHCR offices and started setting up camp inside the premises. 

Police sources confirmed to News24 that a case of trespassing had been opened and that they would go onto the premises to remove the group.

Refugees previously told News24 that they would not leave willingly, as they had nowhere else to go.

The Waterkloof Homeowners' Association and Brooklyn and Eastern Areas Citizens' Association had sought the court order directing the refugees to leave the area or for police, the City of Tshwane and Department of Home Affairs to intervene and apply the law. 

They argued that the refugees, who are the first respondents in the application were in contravention of municipal by-laws and other applicable laws. 

Following long winded arguments and disagreements on the proposed orders, Judge Natvarlal Ranchod granted the order on Wednesday. 

In the event that the refugees do not leave of their own free will, Ranchod ordered the City of Tshwane, Department of Home Affairs and police to engage with them to ascertain their status in order to find out which of them are legally authorised to reside in South Africa. 

By-laws

Ranchod also interdicted the refugees from contravening the by-laws and other laws applicable in South Africa, including causing a nuisance to residents in Brooklyn, Nieuw Muckleneuk and Waterkloof, erecting any shelters, tents or shacks and causing unpleasant or offensive smells. 

The refugees have also been prohibited from cooking food, making fires and hanging clothing on fences and trees. 

The City and Department of Home Affairs have also been ordered to report back to Ranchod on November 21 with regards to the operation. 

Before the order was read out on court, two refugee leaders attempted to address court to explain their concerns. 

Democratic Republic of Congo national Aline Bukuru told the court that they wanted to oppose the order ,but did not have the funds for legal assistance. 

Ranchod explained that she could make use of pro bono services, but Bukuru retorted that they would not help refugees either. 

"If you issue this order, they will do what they did in Cape Town," she said. 

Tshwane mayor welcomes court victory

News24 previously reported that a number of refugees were forcibly removed from UNHCR offices in Cape Town, following another court order. 

Tshwane Mayor Stevens Mokgalapa welcomed the ruling as a victory for the City’s service delivery mandate to residents. 

"The ruling expedites a matter that should never have arrived at legal action if the Department for Home Affairs and South African Police Service took their mandates to citizens with the seriousness it deserves," he said in a statement. 

"According to the ruling, all parties should respond to ensure practical solutions end this impasse. The City will support SAPS in the removal of the people who have gathered outside the UNHCR Offices."

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