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31 Jan 2008 08:31
South African police have raided a church that was a sanctuary for Zimbabwean refugees, arresting scores of suspected illegal immigrants, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) said on Thursday.
The raid occurred at about midnight on Wednesday at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg, which has become a virtual refugee camp for those fleeing an economic crisis in Zimbabwe, the public broadcaster said.
About 1 000 Zimbabweans were staying in the church’s homeless shelter, with the blessing of church officials. They slept on mats in the corridors, foyer, meeting rooms and outside the building and were fed each day.
Bishop Paul Verryn, who has been at the forefront of the church’s effort to look after the refugees and asylum-seekers, accused the police of using excessive force on church workers and those staying at the shelter.
“They did not have a warrant,” Verryn told SABC.
“They have pushed me around and treated us despicably.”
Verryn said pregnant women were among those targeted in the police raid.
Zimbabwe is struggling with an economic meltdown, marked by soaring poverty and inflation, unemployment of about 80% and chronic shortages of food, fuel, water, electricity and hard currency.
An estimated 4 000 Zimbabweans cross into neighbouring South Africa each day to look for food and work. Many come to Johannesburg, the centre of South Africa’s booming economy, where they have relatives and can often find jobs.
The arrivals, however, have stirred resentment among some South Africans, who blame them for contributing to the country’s high levels of violent crime and of stealing jobs from locals.—Reuters
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