Over 20 police officers have been injured during an operation to remove refugees from the premises of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria.
The police were met with violent resistance on Friday morning as they removed hundreds of refugees from the UNHCR offices. Many refugees resisted arrest and fought back, bashing against the police shields and throwing rocks, cans of food, water buckets and other items at the officers. Others sat in a group and refused to move or be removed.
As a result, 24 police officers were injured – six of which were hospitalised with serious injures – following attacks with “buckets, and other objects, including dangerous weapons that police confiscated”, says provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters.
The six officers were discharged on the same day after receiving medical attention.
The operation was conducted in response to a case of trespassing, when around 500 refugees gained access to the UNHCR property, which had been opened at Brooklyn police station.
News24 previously reported that a case of trespassing was opened against the refugees after they forced their way onto the UNHCR premises on Thursday morning in an attempt to avoid a Gauteng High Court order that was handed down in Pretoria on Wednesday. The order, which was served by the Sheriff of the High Court, gave the refugees three days to vacate the area.
Since the beginning of October, refugees have been living on pavements outside the UNHCR's offices in tents and makeshift structures. They want to be resettled in another country as they fear xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
Gauteng Provincial Commissioner of police, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, has since commended officers for the manner in which they responded to the resistance from the refugees.
“As soon as police gained access to the property, the group started attacking the members while the women in the group were carrying babies on their backs and sides, making it difficult for police to react,” explains Peters.
“Instead of retaliating, police weighed options in terms of appropriate tactics for crowd management. Water cannons were deployed and police were, during that short space, able to apply tactics that ultimately ensured minimum injuries.”
All the refugees have been removed from the property, and 182 men and one woman have been taken into custody, Peters confirmed. The 224 remaining women, some of whom are pregnant, 169 children and seven men are being temporarily accommodated at the Lindela Repatriation Centre pending a verification process by the Department of Home Affairs.
Those in custody are expected to appear in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Also on Friday, a delegation of interfaith leaders and an SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) commissioner were allegedly attacked inside the Cape Town Central Methodist Church as they tried to mediate an impasse with refugees and asylum seekers looking to leave the country.
SAHRC's Chris Nissen, the church's Reverend Alan Storey and Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Bishop Thabo Makgoba were reportedly injured during the incident.