Cape Town refugees want Pretoria group freed to join 'mass exodus'

A banner put up outside the Cape Town Methodist Church. (Jenni Evans, News24)
A banner put up outside the Cape Town Methodist Church. (Jenni Evans, News24)

The foreign nationals taking shelter in the Cape Town Methodist Church want people who were arrested in a sit-in similar to theirs at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) premises in Pretoria, to be released to join them on their "mass exodus".

"We can't leave anyone behind," said Albert Luninga on Wednesday on the plans to leave South Africa.

He said that in the meantime, they are taking a roll call of who is still taking shelter at the church, noting their names, their personal circumstances, and who the children's parents are to make sure they do not become separated during the journey. 

They are still trying to decide where the two groups will meet up.

He said talks are still continuing in the hopes of coming to an amicable solution.

On October 7 a group in Pretoria started camping near the UNHCR there, with a group in Cape Town following suit on October 8 in the Waldorf Arcade, also near the UNHCR's offices in the respective cities.

Their demand was that they are evacuated to a country other than their country of origin, saying they have been subjected to xenophobia and violence in South Africa.

The UNHCR and the Department of Home Affairs say the evacuation and relocation to a third country is not possible.

The Cape Town sit-in was broken up by police on October 30, and at least 100 people, including children, were briefly detained.

They were released later that day, and the group of about 600 people have been living in the church since.

The church's Reverand Alan Storey has asked them to start preparing to leave due to the health and fire risks associated with living in such close quarters.

The stench of urine has started rising from the cobblestones around the church, and basic ablutions such as brushing teeth and washing faces is done over the gutter with a bottle of water, a face cloth, and a toothbrush.

Those taking refuge spent the day waiting for news of any new development, sleeping, chatting, or playing a home-made board game.

In the meantime, the Pretoria group allegedly forced their way onto the UNHCR's premises on Thursday. This was after a court ordered that they vacate the area within three days.

They were removed by police on Friday after a case of trespassing was opened at the police station.

GroundUp reported that 189 foreign nationals have appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court since then face trespassing charges.

They remain in custody until their next appearance in court.

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.

Police said that 24 officers were injured during their removal from the UNHCR's premises in Pretoria.

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