High Court to decide on the fate of refugees camped in Cape Town CBD

24 January 2020 - 12:34 By Philani Nombembe
Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, says the city will not accede to the refugees' demands for emergency accommodation.
Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, says the city will not accede to the refugees' demands for emergency accommodation.
Image: Dave Chambers

Refugees camped in the Cape Town CBD might have to endure the discomfort for a while longer after the city council said it would not accede to their demands for emergency housing.  

The group was offered refuge in the Central Methodist Church after they were evicted from outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees offices in St George’s Mall in October.

They want to be relocated to another country, claiming they are not safe in SA.

There have been numerous complaints from businesses around the church, on Greenmarket Square, after a split among the refugees led to one group being kicked out of the building.

The splinter group has been sleeping and cooking outside and has erected unsightly structures on the pavements. There was reportedly a chickenpox outbreak among the children last month, and aid workers have been denied access to those occupying the church.

In a statement on Friday, JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, said the city council “understands and shares the growing concern and frustration around the refugee occupation of the Methodist church and surrounds”.

Smith said the city was doing all it could to resolve “a complex legal issue”. The UN had repeatedly told the refugees they would not be resettled in another country, he said.

“The occupation of the church and the area around it has resulted in numerous transgressions of the city’s bylaws and claims of criminal activity, and has had a significant impact on the surrounding businesses,” said Smith.

“The city has applied to the Western Cape High Court to allow for the enforcement of its bylaws in order to address the situation, which was necessitated by another legal matter challenging the city’s bylaws.

“The application was postponed until January 28 2020. The city will attend court on the assigned date to obtain the final order.”

Smith said the refugees had refused to be reintegrated into local communities.

“The refugees are demanding emergency housing from the city and eventual relocation to a country of their choosing. They have rejected the proposal of reintegration,” Smith said.

“The city cannot accede to the demand of emergency housing for this group ahead of the thousands in real need.”

Smith also took a swipe at the department of home affairs, saying it had been “absent from a crisis which only they were able to resolve, leaving the rest of us to try to resolve it with inadequate powers and options”.


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