5 highlights from Aaron Motsoaledi’s briefing on refugees in Cape Town

20 April 2021 - 13:20
At the height of the protests, police and refugees clashed in the Cape Town city centre where the refugees had camped outside the UN High Commission for Refugees office before occupying the Central Methodist Church. File photo.
At the height of the protests, police and refugees clashed in the Cape Town city centre where the refugees had camped outside the UN High Commission for Refugees office before occupying the Central Methodist Church. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Monday said temporary shelters which housed foreign nationals last year were established under the Disaster Management Act and were aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 at the height of lockdown.

The minister was addressing the media about the decision to deport 41 foreign nationals who demanded to be resettled in other countries. They had occupied the Central Methodist Church in the Cape Town CBD in April last year, but some ended up on the streets due to infighting. 

The group left their communities because of xenophobic violence.

Here are five highlights from the minister’s briefing: 

No refugee camps in SA

The minister refuted claims about foreign nationals being placed in camps. He said the group had occupied the Central Methodist Church in the Cape Town CBD in protest because their demand to be deported to a third country could not be met.

“Very deliberately, this country in its constitution opted for a policy of non-encampment, meaning people who migrate to SA shall not be put in camps or be subjected to life in refugee camps and all its ramifications.”

Infighting among ringleaders ‘complicated attempts to resolve the matter’

Motsoaledi said there were divisions within the group which led to infighting and one faction moving out of the church to the streets.

“Under the city laws, this was a breach of bylaws. The matter was taken to court by the city of Cape Town because they had to protect their bylaws which were being breached. The court ruled the protesters be removed.”

How temporary shelters came about 

The minister said the temporary shelters, including one in Bellville, were established under the Disaster Management Act at the height of the lockdown. The minister they were not moved under the refugee or immigration acts. 

“None of these shelters were designed as refugee camps. When the country went to lockdown level 1, two government entities went to the shelters to deal with migrants who had not completed their asylum seeker status.” 

Some protesters did not qualify for asylum seeker status

Among the 1,500 people who occupied the Bellville and Kensington shelters in Cape Town, some did not qualify for asylum seeker status.

“A total of 583 who had applied for asylum seeker status were rejected and decided to appeal in terms of the law. A total of 382 were rejected by the refugee reception officers as not qualifying for refugee status. They are being reviewed by the standing committee of refugee affairs.”

Deportations

Motsoaledi said the department will deport 41 foreign nationals, including the ringleaders who led the protests. The minister said they did not qualify for refugee status in SA.

“The deported people include the ringleaders of this rebellion who refer to themselves as fighting for a just cause for themselves and the protesters. The fact that the courts agree with us that the ringleaders must be deported shows they were imposters from the very beginning.” 


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