Chaos erupted in the Cape Town CBD on Wednesday after the South African Police Service and the City’s Law Enforcement Unit were sent to carry out court orders to end a three-week long foreign national sit-in outside of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in the city. Public order police used stun grenades and water cannons to disperse the group, leading to violent scuffles with some refugees. Dramatic scenes played out as police officials forcefully removed crying babies and children from their mother’s arms, in a bid to evict the refugees.
Hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees took part in the sit-in, demanding either repatriation or sponsored travel to countries such as Australia or Canada. Xenophobia, prejudice, difficulty in obtaining paperwork from home affairs and education have all been cited as reasons for the demands of foreign nationals.
According to reports by eNCA, in August and early September South Africa experienced a wave of xenophobic violence leaving 12 people killed – although most of them were South African. Mobs reportedly descended on foreign-owned stores in and around Johannesburg, destroying properties and looting.
[WATCH] It's chaos outside the UNHCR offices in Cape Town where #Refugees&migrant labourers have been camping outside for weeks. Public Order Police have moved in to clear the street. @etvNewsSA pic.twitter.com/mkaS54Tuhv
— Natalie Malgas (@nataliemalgas) October 30, 2019
Hundreds of refugees found shelter within the Good hope community church in Burg Street after violent clashes erupted…
The South African Human Rights Commission’s Chris Nissen condemned the manhandling of women and children but stressed that both law enforcement officials as well as the protestors held responsibility for the manner in which the events unfolded.
He explained that while many were arrested, all have since been released. Nissen is calling for realistic expectations from foreign nationals with hopes of engaging in constructive dialogue.
“Any manhandling of women and children is unacceptable and as the SAHRC we condemn it. Could the situation be handled differently? Any situation could be handled differently if all of us have the right approach from both parties. Putting children in front [of a protest] when you know police are coming is not the right decision,” he said.
“We need dialogue to look at what’s realistic and what’s unrealistic…You can’t expect the South African government to put a plane together and send people to Australia and Canada as some of the demands were made. There must be protocols and some discussion to facilitate a sustainable solution.”
Nissen indicated that according to his knowledge, the estimation of the number of refugees in South Africa currently stands at approximately 3.5 million and highlighted that South Africa is one of the only countries in the world that refuses to place these refugees in designated and controlled camps. He also commended the Nigerian government and said that other governments and ambassadors should assume responsibility in providing their citizens with the necessary support for repatriation as well.
Unifam activist Patrick Matenga’s sentiments seemed in alignment with those of Nissen’s insofar as the unrealistic expectations of foreign nationals are concerned and also reflected a strong condemnation of what transpired yesterday.
“The refugees and asylum seekers need to be realistic…the issue that they are claiming and wanting to be removed to go overseas is absolutely not a practical solution. There is no settlement without a process and everything has to work accordingly on a case by case basis so that everyone can be heard, because everyone has a different problem,” said Matenga.
“Unifam is organising all the leaders to come together so that we can seek negotiations with them to find solutions. We are looking to be in contact with the priests so that we can propose dialogue together with the broader refugee community and other stakeholders to find solutions. We can’t allow this to go on.”