Three months' rent or a ticket back home? Cape Town refugee, asylum seeker groups must decide

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The Paint City, Bellville, tent.
The Paint City, Bellville, tent.
  • The Cape Town refugees and asylum seekers living in two large tents in Cape Town have been given a two week deadline to leave.  
  • They must choose between getting three months' rent and food to help them get back on their feet, or a free ticket back to their country of origin. 
  • Either way, the government plans to cut off the services provided during the Covid-19 hard lockdown. 

The group of asylum seekers and refugees living in two tents in Cape Town since the lockdown started have been given an ultimatum - leave or face deportation.

On Monday Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said there are only two options left after a lengthy stand off: 

  • Find somewhere else to live and accept an offer from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to cover three months' rent and food while settling back in, or; 
  • Accept a free ticket to their country of origin paid for by the UN International Organisation for Migration.

Either way, all of the services provided for them at the marquees at Paint City in Bellville and opposite a cemetery in Wingfield, will be removed two weeks from 14 April. 

"We agree it might turn out ugly," said Motsoaledi in a media briefing on Monday.

"But that's not our intention. We are painfully aware that they are going to push children and women in front." 

Motsoaledi said the entire situation, which came to prominence with a sit-in at an arcade in the Cape Town CBD, and ended with removal from in- and around the Central Methodist Mission to two marquees, had been mischaracterised as the forced removal of refugees and asylum seekers. 

He said they were moved because of breaches of by-laws and the Covid-19 hard lockdown Level 1 rules preventing sleeping on pavements and in crowded spaces.

ALSO READ | Motsoaledi warns of 'humanitarian crisis' as pressure mounts at SA's border posts

He accused the group of an "ill conceived" and "orchestrated" campaign to be relocated to the French-speaking region of Quebec in Canada for better social benefits than those offered by South Africa.

"The protesters deny that - but we have established it," said Motsoaledi. He said this final offer comes after extensive consultation and discussion between UN agencies, government departments, and the embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 85% of the 1 553-strong group comes from originally.

He said the ultimatum comes after the City of Cape Town was set to remove all of its services from the two sites.    

Motsoaledi explained that South African law does not allow for "refugee camps".

This means that the Auditor-General had taken the City of Cape Town to task for spending money not provided for in any legislation.

This would be regarded as the dreaded "irregular expenditure" and neither the City, nor the Department of Home Affairs is prepared to get on the wrong side of the Auditor-General for what the AG regards as, "... tented camps for refugees", not covered in any South African law or financial processes.

Motsoaledi said the Premier of the Western Cape Alan Winde stepped in and said the provincial government would bear the responsibility for the services at the tents for only two weeks to give all of the agencies involved in the offer time to execute it. 

He some of the occupants have already accepted the offer and have sent messages of thanks as they settle into the new accommodation they found when taking up the offer.

He claimed some people in the two groups clearly left for jobs every day, sleeping at the tents in the hopes that the Canada relocation demand will come through.  

Of those in the group, who have applied for refugee or asylum seeker status in South Africa, 583 were rejected and decided to appeal to the Refugee Authority of SA.  

A further 382 were rejected by the refugee reception offices as not qualifying as refugees. Two hundred and sixty four of the appeals have been completed, and are being reviewed, with 174 finalised.  

Forty-one people have been deported, after a magistrate confirmed the deportation orders. 

"The deported leaders, these 41, they include the ring leaders of this rebellion," said Motsoaledi. 

Two of the three leaders of the group - Aline Bukhuru and Papi Sukhami - have already been deported and the third, JP Balous, is in custody awaiting criminal charges following a confrontation in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court. He has also exhausted all appeals regarding his status in South Africa and faces deportation. 

"Once the criminal proceedings are over, we shall deport him also," said Motsoaledi. "[I am] mentioning these individuals by name because they are the ones who had promised fellow protesters a pie in the sky."  

Motsoaledi said millions of foreign nationals have successfully integrated into South African communities. Motsoaledi said the offer of three months' paid accommodation and food or a ticket to their country of origin was an extremely fair offer that South Africans don't even benefit from.  

He added that neither South Africa nor the UN could force any third party country to accept a refugee or asylum seeker seeking resettlement.

"It is an orchestrated saga and will end the way it will end in about two weeks' time," said Motsoaledi.  

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