We are not going to Lindela Repatriation Centre, say refugees camped outside UN offices

Refugees have been camping outside the Pretoria office of the UNHCR since 2019. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Refugees have been camping outside the Pretoria office of the UNHCR since 2019. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 20, 2023


Pretoria - Refugees who erected makeshift tents on the pavement next to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria have vowed to resist any attempt to relocate them to the Lindela Repatriation Centre in Krugersdorp.

The latest offer to settle these families and their children, some as young as 3, followed a new court order which recommended that the affected parties, such as Brooklyn residents, support moves for an amicable relocation.

As part of the offer, the aggrieved parties – who include several homeowners in the suburb – agreed that the Home Affairs must dispatch buses to the area to relocate the refugees to Lindela instead of involving the police to execute the order.

While Lawyers for Human Rights were expected to oversee the mediation process, the refugees vowed to remain in the area until the UNHCR finds suitable accommodation for them.

Refugees camped outside the Pretoria office of the UNHCR refuse to be relocated to Lindela Repatriation Centre. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

One such person is Theresa Walu, a Rwandan national with family links in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The conflict between these two nations had forced them to flee to South Africa in the hope of finding a peaceful and suitable life, but it was not to be.

Walu told the Pretoria News that she was living and working in Julies in the east of Joburg in 2019 when she and others were victims of xenophobic attacks, which prompted her to flee to Pretoria and seek help from the UNHCR.

After a failed attempt to seek help, Walu was one of hundreds of people who invaded the UN refugee agency’s building until police pounced on them on November 15, 2019.

She was part of a group of women and children who were taken to Lindela, while the men were kept as awaiting trial prisoners at the Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre.

“Lindela is a living hell. We were kept there for almost four years without soap, toilet paper and sanitation pads. We had to cut up some of our mattresses into small pieces to use as sanitary pads, especially for the children who were with us,” Walu recounted.

She said the ablution facilities at the centre were unhygienic and “the bush is better” as she emphasised that many of them took ill due to the conditions at the centre.

“One of the ladies who was with us at Lindela died there,” Walu said.

Various other women, who were in the vicinity, agreed and pledged to remain in the area, or said the UNHCR must provide them with the necessary travel documents to go to the neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana and eSwatini.

“We do not want to go to Europe or the USA. We want the UNHCR to give us travel documents to go to Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (eSwatini),” Walu insisted.

Another refugee, Johnny Lowoso, still bears the marks of his incarceration after being placed in handcuffs and leg irons for trespassing into the Refugee Agency building but he does not regret his action.

After spending more than two years in jail as an awaiting trial prisoner at Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre and one month as a convicted prisoner at Voortrekker jail, he returned to Waterkloof Road to erect his tent.

Lowoso has been living in South Africa since 2010. He survived as a hawker and owned an Uber. His wife owned a salon.

Nine years later, all their property was destroyed. “They did not steal anything from us. They just destroyed everything. My Uber was burnt to ashes and my wife’s salon was destroyed. They took nothing from us. It was an act of sabotage,” Lowoso said.

He also supports the call to resist any attempt to move them to Lindela, saying that would be equal to signing off their deaths.

“Any offer from the government, we do not want. We will not go anywhere they like. We want the UN to find us a place. Even if it’s a bush, we will go there,” Lowoso said.

While the City of Tshwane and the interested parties were still negotiating a deal yesterday, these residents were adamant that they would not move. Yesterday afternoon some of the women were cutting stumps of wood into small pieces to make a fire to stave off the cold, while others used them to cook.

Others also fetched water from nearby businesses to drink, but it is the pile of trash which poses a risk to their lives.

“The municipality does not want to collect the trash,” Lowoso said.

Pretoria News