The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR has denied media reports that an impasse has been reached in negotiations with foreign nationals wanting to leave South Africa via the sponsorship of the South African government and the United Nations. The complaints of these foreign nationals revolve around allegations of xenophobia and violence, documentation issues, education and accommodation.
Head of external engagements at the UNHCR in Cape Town, Joan Allison says that the UNHCR has been consistently engaging with protestors since the sit-in outside their offices in the Cape Town CBD began.
Allison indicated that while most protestors are demanding group relocation, their demands are not possible due to logistical reasons – both financially and according to international law.
There are three options available to refugees in South Africa, according to Allison:
- Voluntary repatriation
- Local integration
- Resettlement in another country (on an individual, case by case basis, as opposed to demands for group resettlement)
She explained that the reason for resettlement being done on a case by case individual basis is that the country receiving any refugee ultimately decides whether or not to accept each individual for resettlement or not, considering a host of factors.
Meanwhile, project manager at the Gift of the Givers Foundation, Ali Sablay says that they now anxiously await the outcome of a meeting between refugee leaders and the UNHCR to determine the way forward.
After local courts ordered the removal of protestors staging the lengthy sit-in outside of the UNHCR offices in the Cape Town CBD, clashes between police and foreign nationals occurred on 30 October 2019. Public order police eventually resorted to the use of stun grenades and water cannons to disperse the crowd, leading to violent scuffles with some protestors.
Since then, hundreds of foreign nationals and refugees sought shelter at the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town.
While Sablay commends the church for their generosity and hospitality, he criticised the lack of contribution by the local Muslim community in assisting, particularly because of his understanding that the majority of those in need of assistance are Muslim brothers and sisters.
“We commend the Methodist Church of Cape Town for opening the church for people of all faiths…70% of people staying in the church are Muslim and the Father, Father Andrew, had no problem accommodating everyone. These people salaah (pray) and everything in the church,” said Sablay.
“All the women and children sleep inside but the men [sleep] outside the church. We hope a solution is reached soon because the conditions they’re living in are not fit.”
Sablay says that there are approximately 300-400 children in the church, ranging from as young as one month-olds to 13 year-olds.
Gift of the Givers has been providing blankets, hot meals, sanitary packs, baby formula, nappies and hygiene kits to the foreign nationals taking refuge in the church. Sablay explained that some are very ill and that the babies in the group are very weak.
A medical team has been dispatched by the Gift of the Givers to address the situation.
Gift of the Givers is appealing to Muslims in South Africa to contribute, even if all they can afford is a smile or some words of support.
“We, as Muslims, are supposed to be at the forefront of situations like this. We appeal, if you want to contribute contact us on 0800 786 911.”