Dozens of Zimbabwean refugees are living on the streets of central Johannesburg following the closure of the refugee processing centre at the show grounds in Musina, Limpopo.
”Most of the people are staying outside. At night you can see them, there’s lots,” said Wellington Masaiti, a volunteer security guard at the central Methodist church in Johannesburg which has become a haven for refugees.
Bishop of the church, Paul Verryn said that about 200 refugees arrived from Musina in the last two weeks, 71 of them arrived on Friday alone.
”There was a definite escalation,” said Verryn.
This week home affairs shut down its ad-hoc refugee processing centre at Musina.
”The facility at Musina was never meant to be a camp,” said home affairs spokesperson Siobhan McCarthy.
In July, a mobile refugee processing centre was built in the Musina show grounds, she said. Zimbabwean asylum-seekers then began to congregate and camp around the processing centre.
”The place became extremely unhygienic and unsafe, especially for children,” said McCarthy.
A new facility was meant to be built near an air force base in Musina over the weekend. McCarthy said it would not be ready until later in the week.
The Musina refugees say they were given transport but it is unclear who provided it. Many say that home affairs or the Musina legal resources centre provided minibus taxis.
McCarthy declined to say precisely who paid for the minibuses but said it was a local NGO or municipal organisation.
She added that the decision to provide the refugees transport away from Musina was taken by a variety of local stakeholders.
Before the Musina refugee processing centre closed, refugees applying for asylum there were given 14-day temporary visas and told to re-apply at other refugee centres around the country.
McCarthy confirmed this and said that a few were also given 90-day visas while their asylum cases were pending.
She said the plan was for refugees receiving 14-day visas to get processed at refugee centres other than the over-taxed facility at Musina.
”Home affairs said we should move out from Musina and get asylum from other centres,” said Elias Mucherina, who arrived in Johannesburg
”They said its too huge [in Musina].”
But on arriving in Johannesburg many of the Musina refugees were told that they need to start the process over again.
Many feel time is running out.
Godfrey Dube waited six weeks in Musina before being given his 14-day visa and told to try elsewhere.
”I don’t know what I am going to do when it expires,” said Dube.
”This paper expires before I am even saved.” — Sapa