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WATCH | Armed police storm Cape Town church to remove refugees

02 April 2020 - 15:15 By Aron Hyman
The scene outside Central Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square, Cape Town, after armed police stormed it on April 2 2020 to remove hundreds of refugees living inside.
The scene outside Central Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square, Cape Town, after armed police stormed it on April 2 2020 to remove hundreds of refugees living inside.
Image: Esa Alexander

Scores of armed police in battle gear stormed a church in the Cape Town city centre on Thursday afternoon to remove hundreds of refugees who had been holed up there for months.

Public order police broke down the front and rear doors at Central Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square.

Using specialised equipment, it took them about three minutes to demolish the old wooden door at the main entrance.

They then used a sledgehammer to shatter an internal glass door and ran into the church, shouting at the refugees to get down.

No shots were fired, and no-one appeared to have been injured in the assault.

Refugees from inside the church were led out, carrying bundles of their belongings, into a fleet of Golden Arrow buses and police vehicles.

Children were traumatised and crying and adults argued with police, afraid they would be separated from family members.

Medical staff and firefighters were standing by in case the church caught fire or someone got hurt.

The minister in charge of the church, the Rev Alan Storey, looked on in concern as the doors were broken down, and as the refugees emerged.

The City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for health and social services, Zahid Badroodien, said the refugees would be taken to a site known as Paint City in Belrail Road, Bellville.

On Tuesday, public works minister Patricia de Lille's spokesperson, Zara Nicholson, said a marquee big enough for 600 refugees was being put up there. The site is near Tygerberg Hospital.

Earlier on Thursday, senior police officers, health workers and home affairs officials went into the church to discuss moving the refugees during the Covid-19 lockdown.

When they emerged, they said the people inside — thought to number about 600 — had refused to leave.

Refugees moved to the church last October after being evicted from outside the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) city centre offices. They claimed to be in peril in SA, due to xenophobia, and wanted to be flown out.

The group split in December after a leadership tussle, and about half of them left. The spent several months living outside the church before being forcibly removed on March 1. Some of them are now in makeshift shelters near Caledon Square police station.


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