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Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des Van Rooyen. Picture Credit: Gallo Images
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They all flock to Jozi like moths to a light

By unknown | Sep 26, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

Like moths to a flame, thousands of refugees are drawn to Johannesburg by its bright lights.

Armed with no more than the clothes on their backs and dreams of a better life, they look for solace in the famed City of Gold.

A few organisations have opened their doors to aid the displaced. The reality of their situation hits home when they find themselves without food, permits, work and shelter in a strange city.

Their first stop is usually the Refugees Ministries Centre, situated at the St Mary's Cathedral, Darragh House.

Emmanuel Ngenzi-Nyakarashi, the project co-ordinator, refers to the centre as a "walk-in centre for asylum seekers".

The centre works closely with the department of home affairs.

Ngenzi-Nyakarashi meets between 20 and 50 new faces daily. But this is only how much the centre can handle and this is where they draw the line, says Ngenzi-Nyakarashi.

Most of the asylum-seekers come from various parts of Asia and Africa - Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malawi and Zimbabwe. And there's also a small percentage of disabled asylum-seekers who come to the centre.

Camilla Kraft, the centre's spokesman, is quick to dispel myths that people who make a living begging are suffering.

"They are skilled and can earn a living in a different environment."

Because the centre does not offer accommodation, the Central Methodist Church provides much-needed shelter. Run by Bishop Paul Verryn, the church has offered shelter to the homeless for more than 10 years now. Situated on one of the busiest streets in Johannesburg, it accommodates between 1000 and 1200 people, mostly from Zimbabwe.

"A lot of them go out during the day to work and come back to the church in the evenings," says Verryn.

Walking into the church in the evening, one is greeted by a damp smell. Wet clothes hang on the stair rails. Not an inch of space is spared. Men, some reading newspapers, litter the stairway. This is where most of them will retire for the night.

Because the lifts are not working, going upstairs means zig-zagging through these destitute men. They dare not move to let us pass while jealously guarding their turf.

On the upper floors, blankets spread out on the floor. Some seem oblivious to the commotion, while others prepare for a meeting at the chapel.

Though the church is not particular on the people that it takes on, they have to adhere to strict rules.

"Drinking, smoking, stealing and sex are not allowed, especially if they are not married," says Verryn.


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