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'We don't want the refugees out here'

By unknown | Mar 11, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Katlego Moeng and Namhla Tshisela

Katlego Moeng and Namhla Tshisela

This morning, Lloyd, Victoria and her husband Brian, are eagerly awaiting the outcome of a stakeholders meeting to discuss the fate of refugees.

The three, all new arrivals at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, made the long trip from Musina at the weekend after the refugee camp there was closed down on Friday.

They have swelled the ranks of the church's refugee community in the central business district, bringing with them headaches for business owners who line the streets close to the church. The overcrowding has resulted in the refugees spilling into the streets.

The business people in the area are not happy because the presence of the refugees is interfering with the running of their businesses.

In response, the government is to hold a meeting today to discuss the worsening refugee situation, with special focus on the new arrivals and those already at the church.

The church faces court action from Pitje Chambers and Cappello restaurant, which are adjacent to the church on Pritchard Street. They want the church to remove the 20 mobile toilets which are a stone's throw from the restaurant and to find an alternative place for the refugees.

Lloyd, a 23-year-old Zimbabwean, arrived on Friday, having hitchhiked from Musina after the refugee processing camp was closed. He had not been processed when the camp shut down.

"My family back home do not know that I am living like this. I go around collecting boxes to earn enough money for food," said Lloyd, who did not want to give his surname.

Victoria and Brian, a young couple also from Zimbabwe, arrived from Musina on Saturday. They paid R150 on a truck.

"We arrived on Saturday but we still do not know how we are going to survive in Johannesburg.

"People look at us badly and there is not enough space to sleep in the church. We are not sure what we are going to do," said Brian.

Meanwhile, Smal Street between Pritchard and Jeppe streets has been cordoned off due to the proximity of the nearly 2000 refugees who sleep there.

Workers who said they were employed by the owner of a building facing the church were erecting a steel fence on Monday to keep the refugees out at night.

Hundreds of Zimbabwean refugees sit around the church and the Johannesburg high court during the day but at night up to 3000 fill the church and reportedly close to 2000 sleep on Smal Street.

Bruce Mohommed of Kho Fi Fi restaurant and Laurence of King Pie both said they were very happy that barricades were being put up to stop the refugees from sleeping in front of their shops.

They, together with other neighbouring shops, complained about the people urinating on the pavements and the filth accumulating as a result of increased numbers of refugees.

They also complained about crime and damage to the glass windows of their shops.

But Providence College's principal Brighten Sikwili, who owns a shop across from the church, was unhappy about the barricades.

"The refugees will now sleep in front of my property," he said.

Nhlakanipho Mkontwana of the department of provincial and local government said: "We are going to have a meeting with all the stakeholders to find a solution."

Gauteng government spokes- person Simon Zwane said the government " prefers people to be accommodated in communities".


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