Cape Town – The refugees who’ve been camping out on the pavement outside the Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square will spend Christmas and New Year on that same pavement.
The Western Cape High Court was unable to force the City of Cape Town to find alternative accommodation for the 500- to 600-strong group, who will now remain in limbo.
The group of refugees comprise nationals from Somalia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the DRC, Burundi and Ethiopia.
The refugees had hoped the court would rule in their favour and force the City to find temporary shelter for them, to also allow the Department of Home Affairs to begin a verification process to document them. The matter was postponed to January 22.
Leader of the refugees Jean-Pierre Balus will, on December 27, file an answering affidavit to claims by the City that the refugees had been harassing tourists and their continued presence on the pavement outside the church posed a threat to tourists and businesses in the area.
Judge Kate Savage expressed her dismay that talks between the City and the refugees had stalled.
“I remain of the firm view that this intractable situation must be resolved as a matter of urgency. I am most disappointed about proceedings this week,” she said.
The heat and a delay of two hours did not seem to affect the spirit of the refugees who packed courtroom 20, some women and children even opting to lie down on the carpet outside the court because there was no space inside.
Advocate Adiel Nacerodien, acting for the City, said the refugees simply did not meet the criteria for the City to offer them alternative accommodation.
Judge Savage accused City of being “overly technical” in its interpretation of the housing code.
Advocate Seth Nthai, acting for the Department of Home Affairs, said the City had a constitutional duty to provide the refugees with temporary housing, adding that the matter had now become a human rights issue.
The City had also asked the court to rule that the refugees not be allowed to make open fires to cook food and wash themselves and ablute (urinate and defecate) on the pavement, as this flouted the City’s by-laws.
“Where does the City suggest the refugees conduct their natural bodily ablutions? It is regrettable that the City’s attitude is that it does not want to provide alternative accommodation,” said Judge Savage.
Balus accused the City of backtracking on a statement earlier this week that it could provide alternative accommodation for four to five days to allow the verification process by Home Affairs to take place. He stressed that the refugees were, in fact, the ones at risk, especially the women and 265 children who form part of the group.
The court heard that about 100 of the refugees, who are asylum-seekers, had in fact lost their applications and 90 were undocumented. Nthai told the court that Home Affairs had a team on standby, ready to spring into action should the court rule that accommodation should be provided.