African migrants, who have been camped in Cape Town’s St Georges Mall in the city’s central business district, say they are looking for up to five missing children after police action earlier on Wednesday.
Police were called in to enforce a Western Cape high court order to remove the foreign nationals — who were camped outside the offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for the last three weeks demanding to be repatriated to other countries
Distressing scenes of women and children being removed from the building, and the surrounding area, played out on live television.
There has also been sharp backlash at a video on social media of a police officer removing a young child from their mother’s arms — while police are trying to lift her off the floor.
One of the leaders of the group, Charles Mbandu, said they can’t account for several children and one man after police forcibly removed people and their belongings from the area.
“The police were aggressive. There were children here. They used pepper spray. We are looking for children. They’re missing,” Mbandu told the Mail & Guardian.
Police have not yet confirmed how many people have been arrested, and what protocol was followed when removing women and children from the building.
On Tuesday, members of the group, who want the UN to assist with repatriation, were at Parliament — along with non-governmental organisations assisting immigrants — to brief the portfolio committee on Home Affairs.
The group’s leader, Jean Pierre Balous, said the about 200 of them came to South Africa as refugees. But they now feel unsafe in the country, following the last outbreak of xenophobic tensions in parts of Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal in September.
“[The UN] should not drag this matter, these things didn’t start happening now. It has been years and there is no improvement. We are asking is to avoid a genocide that can happen to refugees. There are ongoing killings in these xenophobic attacks, and nothing is being done.”
Balous said African immigrants have been living under threat in South Africa since 2008, when xenophobic violence spread across most of the country.
“Nothing is being done to those who are perpetrating and instigating these attacks. It’s like a free for all. Nothing has changed from 2008. It’s going from worst to worst. There’s no improvement,” he claimed.
The immigrants want to be repatriated to countries like Canada, Australia, and Europe.