Cape Town – Demands have been made for the government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resolve and assist the hundreds of displaced refugees in the city.
More than 600 men, women and children have taken shelter at the Central Methodist Mission on Green Market Square after they were forcefully removed by the police from outside the offices of the UNHCR in Waldorf Arcade, St Georges Mall on Wednesday.
A group of disgruntled asylum seekers and refugees staged a sit-in for close to three weeks demanding to be transferred to safer countries because they feared xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
Their removal made headlines after the situation imploded when the public order policing unit, carrying out a court order, used water cannons, teargas and stun grenades.
Many mothers said their children were traumatised.
Kabunga Nadine, 38, was pictured crying on the ground while the police attempted to remove her 20-month-old daughter, Gracious. She described the treatment as inhumane.
The panicked mother of two who is pregnant, said she could not trace her 12-year-old daughter whom she hadn’t seen since.
“I don’t know where my daughter is and I can’t even report it to the police because they are the ones who did this to us. I have had nothing but bad experiences since I came to this country 13 years ago, from Burundi, when I was raped after sleeping outside the Home Affairs offices for two weeks,” she recalled.
Spokesperson for the MEC for Social Development, Joshua Chigome said their role was to provide support to the children after the evictions but attempts by their social workers to do assessments and provide social services were rejected by the parents.
Executive director for the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Neeshan Balton called for talks to find an urgent solution while also criticising police action during the evictions.
“South Africa has always been seen as a beacon of human rights and what has transpired in the past few days is far short of this.
“The manner in which the SAPS responded to this situation needs to be reviewed,” he said.
Reverend Alan Storey of the Methodist Mission criticised what he called excessive force to remove the protesters, saying more needed to be done to address challenges facing this group.
“People have really suffered and are afraid, specifically from the recent events in the country and that is my understanding of why people were protesting outside the UN,” he says.
Storey called for long-term solutions as the church could only provide temporary relief.
The UNHCR’s Joan Allison said they had meetings with affected parties on Friday to try to find a solution, which did not include group resettlements as demanded by the protesters.
“There are 268000 refugees in South Africa, so many who find themselves in vulnerable positions and we want to help everyone but we also have limited funds and want to focus on the most vulnerable.
“While the group wants resettlement elsewhere, countries able to accommodate a large group have challenges,” Allison said.