Hundreds of refugees including women and children from various African and Middle Eastern countries, have been camped out in the foyer of the Waldorf Arcade in the CBD since Tuesday, demanding to be resettled. Photo: Brendan Magaar / African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - A group of refugees and asylum seekers are pleading with the South African government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help them leave the country.

One of their leaders, Sylvia Nahmana from Women and Child Concern, said they were still waiting for the update from UNHCR, which “we are hoping to get solution any time from now”.

Nahmana said she came from Burundi, and said it was a must that they take them out of “this” country: “It’s not negotiable. We do not want to stay. We want to go.”

Thousands of refugees were sleeping at the Waldorf Arcade where the Cape Town offices of the UNHCR are situated. They were accusing the organisation of failing to protect them from xenophobia.

In terms of relieving themselves, Nahmana said they organise themselves a place at the Green Market Square. “We are cleaning ourselves and we even buy toiletries for ourselves,” she said.

Nahmana pleaded for President Cyril Ramaphosa to let them go, “because your children have been crying for us to go. Today, we want to go”.

The spokesperson for Premier Alan Winde, Bianca Capazorio, said the protest was taking place simultaneously in Pretoria and in Cape Town, “and is directed at the UNHCR".

Refugees and asylum seekers protest in the city, saying they would rather leave South Africa than face xenophobia. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus
Refugees and asylum seekers protest in the city, saying they would rather leave South Africa than face xenophobia. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus

"The participants have indicated that they are looking to be repatriated, which is not a provincial mandate. Provincial governments also do not have the mandate over policing or by-law enforcement,” Capazorio said.

This came after the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, concluded his two-day visit to South Africa, where he held a range of discussions with refugees and met Ramaphosa, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and senior government representatives over the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

Grandi said the UNHCR was dedicated to working with the authorities to help address concerns and find suitable solutions. He stressed that refugees opting for voluntary repatriation should be helped to return to their countries of origin.

According to government statistics, South Africa is currently hosting 268 000 refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The UNHCR acknowledged that South Africa was confronted with the challenge of tackling the issue of an increase in population flow saying that asylum systems have come under immense strain as conflict and persecution drive more refugees across borders. Migrants have also resorted to asylum channels in the absence of other safe, regular migration options.

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