WATCH | Pandemonium in courtroom as refugee leader, 2 others arrested in alleged escape

One of the leaders of a group of refugees seeking relocation to another country was arrested again on Friday with two other people in a dramatic showdown with authorities for allegedly trying to escape from custody.

JP Balous had been due in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court on an assault charge relating to a leadership fallout at the Central Methodist Mission where the group had been taking shelter since last October being removed by police from a sit-in near the UNHCR's office.

Balous' wife Aline Bukuru told News24 he stepped out of the dock after appearing on the assault charge in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court, and was promptly arrested again. 

He had been on bail for the first case.

She said she understands it is related to a complaint laid against him by SA Human Rights Commissioner (SAHRC) Chris Nissen after Balous allegedly made threats against him in the Western Cape High Court ahead of an application for the City to be able to enforce its by-laws to remove the group living outside the Central Methodist Church.

MUST READ | City of Cape Town wants to know why sit-in refugees aren't being arrested

Bukuru said police grabbed Balous and she did not know where he was taken. 

In this video footage, pandemonium breaks out in the court, and eventually a man is seen outside on the ground wailing and being lifted into a police van by a number of police officers. 

Bukuru said the man being lifted into the van is her husband.

Police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk said during Balous' court appearance, a group of supporters allegedly attacked the police, and assisted the accused in escaping from police custody.

The group also intimidated police, Van Wyk said. 

"Public order police assisted by Metro Police took action."

"They re-arrested the accused in Caledon Street and arrested two other suspects  for defeating the ends of justice, resisting arrest, assault and intimidation. All three will appear in court on Monday," said Van Wyk.

'Fled the court' 

MMC for Safety in the City JP Smith said that he understands that there was a warrant for Balous on another matter and he had left the dock without the second matter being completed.

READ | UNHCR stands firm on Cape Town refugee situation

"He fled the court at some point," said Smith. 

The situation regarding the group has reached a stalemate with a group still living inside the Central Methodist Mission, and a group removed from the perimeter of the church living on pavements around the corner from Cape Town Central police station.

The group had been moved from the perimeter of the Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square on Sunday but moved to St Mary's Cathedral opposite Parliament. Authorities moved them again but they slept in a park and were moved from the park too. 

They have insisted that it is not safe to return to their communities, that they do not have money to start up again, and that they want to leave South Africa.

ALSO READ | Refugees defend access control to Cape Town church 

In terms of a court order, the City provided transport and a building for members in the group to go for a verification process to establish whether they were refugees and asylum seekers, and to get details of the xenophobia they had cited as the reasons for not wanting to live in their previous homes around Cape Town any more. 

Of the 781 people interviewed at the facility in Salt River, 538 people had papers which confirm their legal right to stay in South Africa.

The group sleeping on the pavement near the police station were offered beds the City found in night shelters, but did not want to go. 

The figure of 781 people assessed had also grown from the original 685 living around the church when the situation began last October.

They are being offered assistance to return to their original communities in Cape Town.

'Condemn violent behaviour'

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, has strongly condemned the incident.

"We commend the SAPS's Public Order police and the Metro Police for their swift action in rearresting the suspect. We strongly condemn any violent behaviour in and around our court precincts. Access to justice means that members of the public and all users of our courts need to be sure that they will be safe inside our courts. Once we have a full report on what transpired on Friday, we can assess the need for added security measures," said Lamola.

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