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End of the road for refugees camped outside UN offices

Refugees camped outside the Pretoria office of the UNHCR in Pretoria will be moved. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Refugees camped outside the Pretoria office of the UNHCR in Pretoria will be moved. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 17, 2023


Pretoria - Refugees camping outside the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Brooklyn, Pretoria, since 2019 have to vacate the area by Wednesday.

In terms of a Gauteng High Court, Pretoria order they must be taken to the Lindela Repatriation Centre to hopefully mark the end of a four-year battle to oust them. They will be given temporary accommodation at the Krugersdorp government facility.

Judge Brenda Neukircher made it clear that the refugees – which include women and children – had to be accommodated in a separate section of Lindela, which is open, allowing them to move freely around.

She stressed that families had to be housed together. The housing at Lindela will be for six months. It is not clear at this stage what will happen thereafter.

Refugees camped outside the Pretoria office of the UNHCR in Pretoria will be moved. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Following her order, the City of Tshwane, together with the Department of Home Affairs, must ensure that the refugees are evicted. In order to do this, buses will transport those who have not yet moved to Lindela on Wednesday.

The SAPS and Home Affairs must assist the refugees on the buses and see to it that their belongings are transported with them. Those who refuse to move face arrest, as the SAPS was ordered to act in this regard.

Also contained in the judgment is an order that the City must see to it that the structures which remain on the pavements in front and around UNHCR are cleared up. The battle by the City and homeowners in the area to evict the refugees began in 2019.

While they were earlier evicted and held in Lindela, many moved back again over time. The refugees have protested outside the offices since 2019 following the outbreak of xenophobic attacks in parts of Joburg. They said they wouldn’t move until their pleas for help were finally heard.

The refugees camped out over the years on the pavement and property adjacent to the UN refugee agency in Waterkloof Road, where they erected makeshift homes.

Judge Neukircher commented that the situation was intolerable on all fronts – both regarding the human rights of the protesters and the rights of the nearby home owners.

“Bearing in mind there are women and children, the situation is of immense concern on a humanitarian level,” the judge said.

But the protesters remained steadfast in their demands. They fled from countries such as the DRC, Burundi and Ethiopia, but they have been adamant that they do not want to remain in South Africa because of the extreme xenophobia to which they have been exposed since their arrival here.

They demand that UNHCR resettle them in Europe, the US and Canada.

This led to an impasse, as UNHCR refused. The protesters meanwhile refused to integrate into South African society.

The judge earlier called on Lawyers for Human Rights to enter the legal proceedings as a friend of the court, in a bid to find a solution. She also called on Home Affairs and the City to to try and find a solution.

The City said it didn’t have alternative housing available, nor did it have the finances to assist. Home Affairs said all it could do was to offer Lindela as a temporary solution.

The judge said that the City couldn’t simply abdicate its responsibility to find alternative accommodation for these people. She also had some harsh words for Home Affairs.

The court last year also appointed a lawyer and an advocate to act on behalf of the refugees, free of charge. They, however, refused to co-operate and the legal team withdrew its services.

The refugees, meanwhile, also didn’t engage in the legal process as their stance is that they wouldn’t go anywhere, especially not to Lindela.

In this regard, the judge commented that the refugees couldn’t dictate where the temporary accommodation should be located.

While the court wanted Home Affairs and the City to sort out the logistics as to where the protesters should be accommodated, not much common ground was found here.

In this regard, the judge said: “In a constitutional dispensation like ours where the citizens look up to their leadership, this is one example that makes one hang one’s head in shame.”

Pretoria News