Refugees plead guilty and are sentenced for trespassing on UN property

A refugee clashes with police on UNHCR property.
A refugee clashes with police on UNHCR property.
Alex Mitchley, News24

Thirty-four of the more than 180 refugees arrested for trespassing at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria, have pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, wholly suspended.

According to a statement by the National Prosecuting Authority, 57 of the accused appeared in prison court at the Kgosi Mampuru correctional facility on Wednesday and Thursday.

The 34 accused, who pleaded guilty to the charges after being in custody since November 2019, were handed six months imprisonment, wholly suspended for a period of five years on condition that the accused are not convicted of another crime during the period of suspension.

READ | Police called in as refugees jump UNHCR walls in Pretoria

The 33 other accused, who also appeared in court, opted to plead not guilty and the matter was postponed for disclosure after a separation of trials was ordered.

The remaining accused are expected to appear on 29 April and 6 May.

The refugees were arrested in November 2019 after they allegedly forced their way onto the UN property in a bid to escape a court order, which forced them to disperse from the pavement outside the UN premises where they had been camping for more than a month.

Hundreds of refugees were staging a sit-in, asking that they be resettled in another country as they feared an escalation in xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

The police were met with violent resistance as they removed hundreds of refugees from the premises on 15 November.

WATCH | Police start removing refugees from UNHCR building in Pretoria

They threw rocks, cans of food, water buckets and other items at police officers, while others sat on the ground refusing to leave peacefully.

News24 previously reported at least 24 officers were injured during the removal operation as many refugees resisted arrest and fought back.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters confirmed that six officers were hospitalised but were discharged the same day after receiving medical treatment.

While at least 189 people were arrested, including one woman, 224 women, 169 children and seven men were also removed from the UN property and taken to the Lindela Repatriation Centre.

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