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D-Day has arrived but refugees still remain in Cape Town’s temporary shelters

The refugees and asylum seekers remaining in temporary shelters in Cape Town are not planning on moving anytime soon despite the government’s decision to close the camps today, 30 April.

The department of home affairs has resolved to withdraw all state departments and agencies from its temporary shelters.

The shelters, Wingfield in Maitland and Paint City in Bellville, were erected during the hard lockdown under the Covid-19 Disaster Management Act in 2020 after the City of Cape Town enforced its bylaws to end a six-month protest by refugees and asylum seekers. 

Xenophobic attacks and the inability to finalise legal papers led to the protest, which started on 8 October 2019.

The shelters initially housed more than 1 500 people, but a number have been locally settled and some have been repatriated.  

Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi called it the “end game” two weeks ago, when he announced that both temporary shelters will be closed at the end of April.

“In two weeks time, the ablution facilities will be removed because nobody will be able to pay for them and nobody is prepared to fund them outside the law as this is a serious offence under South Africa’s Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). Whoever chooses to remain in the open and in the streets without any shelter and facilities will obviously be breaking the law and will be dealt with by law enforcement agencies under the applicable legislation,” said Motsoaledi while briefing the public. 

As of today, hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers remain at the shelters, reluctant to be settled locally and wanting to be resettled in a third country. 

Many left the shelters after agreeing to reintegrate locally or be repatriated. Leaders in the camps were forcibly deported to their countries of origin.

Siya Qoza, the spokesperson for Motsoaledi referred the Mail & Guardian to its press statement. 

“The department of home affairs and its partners have been engaging the protestors living in temporary shelters … On Monday, 26 April the protestors were given a final notice to take the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offer to assist them to reintegrate into local communities or to voluntarily repatriate to their countries of origin,” reads the press statement.

It then states that over the course of the week, the majority of people in both facilities came forward indicating their willingness to either reintegrate or voluntarily repatriate. 

“Around 400 protesters from Wingfield and another 120 from Paint City communicated their preferences this week. Law enforcement authorities have opted to allow immigration and UNHCR officials time to complete their work and not disrupt them by moving in at the moment.”

When the M&G visited the camp on Friday, Hafiz Mohammad, a spokesperson for the Paint City shelter in Bellville said they “are just waiting” for the government to remove them.

According to Mohammad, they were told a week ago [Friday, 23 April] that the home affairs department would remove the tent today. The tent still houses about 600 people, of which 260 are children. 

Those who demand to be resettled to a third country have little chance of this coming to fruition. Kate Pond, the spokesperson for the UNHRC in South Africa, said earlier this month that resettlement is rare, because “it is something that’s available to a very small number of refugees worldwide who are extremely vulnerable. In fact, last year less than 1% of refugees were resettled [in a third country].” 

As the day has arrived to close down the temporary shelters it is unclear how the home affairs department will stay true to its resolution on 23 April. 

“We are aware that as in the past this may lead to conflict between law enforcement agencies and such intransigent people, but [the] situation cannot be left to continue any longer.  Any reasonable person will agree that the South African state has been extremely patient and understanding but unfortunately, this now ought to come to an end,” Motsoaldi confidently said two weeks ago.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a junior daily news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a freelance journalist and a broadcaster at Maroela Media and Smile90.4FM.

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