Pretoria - It took the police more than two hours to eventually remove hundreds of foreign nationals, who after camping outside the UN High Commission for Refugees in Brooklyn for more than a month, invaded the premises on Thursday.
When the “war zone” cleared, police removed some 500 foreign nationals, including refugees and asylum-seekers, who were trespassing on private and diplomatic premises.
Spokesperson for the UN office Pumla Rulashe said: “We understand that most male protesters and some women were taken to nearby police stations where the Department of Home Affairs will verify their identities.
“Most women and children were to be taken to shelters in the city where they will be assisted by social governmental bodies.
“We have been urging a peaceful resolution to this distressing situation and have reminded refugees and asylum seekers that they have to abide by the laws of South Africa.”
Rulashe said the office remained committed to provide legal and social assistance to the 268 000 refugees and asylum-seekers in the country and support them in their communities, including with livelihoods.
“For the most vulnerable ones who were removed and who do not have anywhere to go, our partners can provide emergency shelter in Pretoria and surroundings, counselling, as well as cash assistance to help pay for rent. Refugees and asylum seekers can also contact our helpline for information.”
Rulashe added they continued to work closely with refugee communities, government authorities, civil society and other stakeholders to foster social cohesion activities that supported the inclusion of refugees into the South African society.
For the residents of Waterkloof, it was a mixture of emotions as they watched police forcibly remove refugees using water cannons and shields, while the foreign nationals responded with rocks.
While some looked on with relief, others cringed at the sight of the violence. Some even questioned the police’s harsh method of removal.
Resident Jason Bailey said: “This was never going to end in peace; we all saw it coming. As sad as it may be, it needed to happen. We pay taxes and have worked all our lives to live in peace the refugees saga was unacceptable; it needed war for peace.”
The foreign nationals had been camping outside the UN office, but stormed into the UN offices a day after the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, ordered that they be evicted.
Their presence had led to an urgent court application by the Waterkloof Homeowners’ Association and Brooklyn and Eastern Areas Citizens’ Association for their removal. In terms of the court order, they were to be removed within three days.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said a case of trespassing had been opened by the UN High Commission for Refugees at the Brooklyn police station on Thursday.
Peters said the reason they used force was because they were met with violent resistance from the refugees and, as a result, four of their members had to be treated for serious injuries.
Those who were arrested would be taken to various police stations and charged with trespassing.
“To give due consideration to women and children, they have been taken and will be handed over to Home Affairs.”
Peters said they would be working with the department and National Prosecuting Authority to check if those detained had valid documents.
“All along, these people have been camping around the yard. Then they scaled the walls, we were told, and gained access to the property, and obviously that constitutes trespassing,” Peters added.