Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Cape Town police action against refugees under scrutiny

 

 

The police have been condemned for the way they enforced a court order to remove people from the offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), in Cape Town.

On Wednesday, police approached the Waldorf Arcade building to evict hundreds of refugees. They had been camped on the ground floor of the building for three weeks — demanding that the UN send them to another country because they said South Africa is unsafe.

READ MORE: Police and migrants clash in downtown Cape Town

In forcefully removing the refugees, police went as far as yanking a child from her mother’s arms.

Refugee group leader Papisse Sukami said the police action proved the South African state perpetuates the violence and threats experienced by migrants in the country. “We are no longer safe in South Africa. We’ve been living here for a long time. But now it’s like South Africans want to clean their country. That’s why we want the UN to move us out.”

The group of between 200 and 300 migrants are now being housed at Greenmarket Square Methodist Church, in the heart of Cape Town’s tourist centre.

The church’s peace and justice monitor, Reverend Annie Kirke, witnessed the police action and said the refugees are justified in their anger at South Africans. “We should be devastated by what we saw. We can’t sit back and say that was just the law being enforced. We saw children being ripped from their mothers, there was hysteria. Later we had to figure out how do we reunite mothers and children.”

But the South African Police said they believe they acted within the letter of the law. Its Western Cape spokesperson, Novela Potelwa, said: “We recognise and respect the rights of all human beings. And if anyone has found to have contravened that, people are free to open complaints. Or they can go to the Human Rights Commission or Independent Police Investigative Directorate.”

Some refugee and migrant rights groups believe people affected have been given false hope by protest leaders.

Patrick Matenga, a member of the Western Cape Refugee and Migrant forum said people were told the UNHCR was offering resettlement.

Matenga said people were promised they would be moved to countries like Canada, Australia, and Europe. “We heard that people were told that the UNHCR was taking people’s names for resettlement. The UNHCR knew nothing about that. So refugees were traumatised by the same people who were leading them. They were misled.”

The UNHCR in a statement said it was continuing to engage refugees and asylum seekers with the assistance of the South African government. “UNHCR has been engaging with the refugees and asylum-seekers since the onset of the protests, encouraging them to participate in constructive dialogue to address their grievances and find a peaceful resolution to the situation.”

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit is a Reporter, Journalist, and Broadcaster.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

South Africa at risk of spillover from international inflation, economists...

Higher international oil prices, for example, could affect local transport costs through second-round effects

Johannesburg council member Jolidee Matongo touted as front-runner to take...

The ANC will likely announce a candidate to take over as the city’s mayor next week after consultation with provincial and national leaders

More top stories

South Africa at risk of spillover from international inflation, economists...

Higher international oil prices, for example, could affect local transport costs through second-round effects

Children’s education in sub-Saharan Africa cannot wait

Children are being deprived not only of education, but also nutrition. Governments and the international community must secure these inalienable rights

Johannesburg council member Jolidee Matongo touted as front-runner to take...

The ANC will likely announce a candidate to take over as the city’s mayor next week after consultation with provincial and national leaders

Clashes in Tunisia after president ousts PM amid Covid protests

Street clashes erupted Monday outside Tunisia's army-barricaded parliament, a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended the legislature, plunging the young democracy into a constitutional crisis
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×