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Cops on patrol at UNHCR to ensure evicted refugees do not return

The shacks UNHCR in Brooklyn before they were demolished. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ African News Agency (ANA)

The shacks UNHCR in Brooklyn before they were demolished. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 24, 2023


Pretoria - The Tshwane Metro Police Department will do regular patrols outside the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Brooklyn, Pretoria, to ensure refugees who were evicted from the area on Friday do not return.

The foreign nationals who had camped on the pavement since 2019 were removed on Friday following a court order obtained by resident associations in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, for them to be taken to the Lindela Repatriation Centre in Krugersdorp.

On Friday the SAPS, immigration officers and metro police carried out a dramatic joint operation to evict the foreign nationals and demolished their shelters built with plastics and wood.

As vehicles with the men, women and children drove away, ward councillor Jarard Frimmel appealed to the metro police to monitor the area. He hailed the operation a success because “no one was injured or harmed”.

A woman carrying her baby leaves the camp during the eviction of refugees who had camped outside the UNHCR in Brooklyn, Pretoria since 2019. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ African News Agency (ANA)

“We are going to hand over the place to the UN and they are going to put measures in place to prevent anyone from settling here in future.”

In addition, he said, the onus was on the metro police to enforce by-laws by monitoring the place with a view to ensure that people did not move into it again and erect shacks.

Tshwane mayor Cilliers Brink said the municipality, via the metro police, would apply the laws of the country by making sure there was law and order.

“There is accommodation for asylum seekers. If you don’t like the quality of the facility, it is a separate issue. At the same time the City of Tshwane has to apply the laws of the country; we have to make sure there is law and order.”

During the operation six people were arrested for being in the country illegally.

Many evictees refused to be moved to Lindela, decrying the inhuman treatment at the facility. But at least 10 people volunteered to go to the centre.

Louise du Plessis of Lawyers for Human Rights promised to talk to churches to accommodate stranded refugees who were not keen to go to Lindela.

“We are trying to talk to churches to see if they can accommodate them. They don’t have a place to go to. They are just hitting the road now because they are saying Lindela is a hell hole they don’t want to go to because many of them have been there for three years. They would rather stay here on the pavement than in Lindela,” she said.

One of them was Justine Zaina, 50, from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She looked back in disbelief as she walked away from her shelter on the pavement, where she had grown mealies.

In reaction to the removals by law-enforcement authorities, Zaina said: “We are not criminals. What have we done in this country? God knows that the Congolese are faced with hardships in their country and He opened a way for them to go where they feel there is peace. If they want to kill me they can kill me because I have already died.”

She scoffed at suggestions that they must be integrated into local communities. “Which community do they want us to go to? Before we came here we were from Lindela. We came here because we knew that the UN refugees centre is a place for refugees and to protect them. We came here because we were experiencing xenophobia.”

Overwhelmed with frustration and hopelessness, other foreigners packed their belongings, which included mattresses, blankets, clothes, food and pots.

Many who refused to be ferried to Lindela said they had nowhere to go, but God would provide them with alternative places to stay.

On many occasions they have refused to relocate from the premises, claiming they didn’t want to reside among the locals out of fear of xenophobic attacks.

For years the foreigners have been resisting to vacate the premises, resulting in residents’ associations, in Brooklyn and Waterkloof, expressing concern about their security.

The two associations were part of legal action against foreigners outside the UN offices allegedly on the grounds that they felt unprotected by the City of Tshwane.

One of the evictees said: “My daughter was born in South Africa in 2010. At some stage we were taken to Lindela and it was bad. Do you think I can take my daughter there again? In SA the government is only for locals and it doesn’t want to take care of us.”

Meanwhile, there were no trace of refugees or their shelters in the area by late yesterday despite weekend reports that some had made their way back. The area remained cordoned off with wire fencing and the shacks were gone.

Pretoria News