Court orders refugees camped outside UN offices in Pretoria to disperse

13 November 2019 - 18:36 By ERNEST MABUZA
Immigrants camping outside the UNHCR office in Pretoria were on Wednesday ordered to disperse.
Immigrants camping outside the UNHCR office in Pretoria were on Wednesday ordered to disperse.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

The high court in Pretoria on Wednesday ordered foreign nationals camping outside the Pretoria office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to vacate the area.

The refugees have been camping outside the offices since October 7, demanding to be sent to other countries because they fear xenophobic violence in SA.

The Brooklyn and Eastern Area Citizens’ Association and the Waterkloof Homeowners’ Association launched the court application for the removal of the refugees. They accused them of causing a nuisance in the area by defecating, urinating and undressing in public, among other acts.

Wednesday was the fourth day that the application was heard, following a change in the stance by the ministers of police and home affairs on whether they would oppose the application. While the ministers initially indicated they would abide by last week's court order, they later indicated that they intended to oppose the matter.

When the matter was due to be heard for the fourth day on Wednesday, the ministers were largely in agreement with the order proposed by the associations.

Although the people who the associations wanted removed were not officially before court, two representatives asked to address the court before judge Natvarlal Ranchod.

Alex Mongonkoy told Ranchod that the refugees had escaped attacks in communities where they stayed.

Ranchod refused to entertain Mongonkoy's address and advised him to follow court procedures, such as filing affidavits, if he wanted to oppose the application. The judge also advised Mongonkoy to approach the pro bono office in the court to seek legal assistance. He said the order did not prevent Mongonkoy from coming back to court.

The order directs local government, relevant ministers and the Brooklyn police station commander to engage the protesters to ascertain their identities and to identify which of the refugees are legally authorised to reside or seek refuge in South Africa.

The order also states that in the event that any of the people camped outside the offices transgresses the law, state authorities are authorised to arrest them.

The court prohibited the foreigners from contravening applicable by-laws by committing certain acts in public spaces in the affected area, including:

  • causing a nuisance to residents of Brooklyn, Nieuw Muckleneuck and Waterkloof;
  • erecting any shelters, shacks or tents;
  • causing unpleasant smells;
  • making fires and/or cooking food;
  • defecating, urinating and undressing;
  • blocking or preventing access to driveways;
  • washing and hanging clothing on the fences and trees; and
  • creating noise disturbances.

The court ordered the refugees to disperse and vacate the affected areas within three days of serving notice. It said service of this order should be effected on the unidentified protesters  by the sheriff of the court, assisted by the police, by affixing copies of the court orders on lamp posts and fences on Waterkloof Road.

The court ordered the municipality and the minister of home affairs to report back to court next Thursday regarding efforts to identify the unidentified protesters, as well as any further facts regarding the presence of the refugees in the affected area.

Speaking after the order was made, Mongonkoy said refugees were not there to disturb the Brooklyn and Waterkloof communities. “We are running from the killings. We ask the UNHCR that we do not want to live in this country again. We have to be out of this country," he said.