Foreigners flee to UN offices in Cape Town, demanding help to leave SA

09 October 2019 - 15:04
By Dan Meyer
The Cape Town Refugee Reception office in Cape Town, where people queue from 3am.
Image: Nora Shelly The Cape Town Refugee Reception office in Cape Town, where people queue from 3am.

Foreigners descended on the UN High Commission for Refugees' (UNHCR) office in Cape Town from Tuesday, trying to convince officials that they need safe passage out of SA.

Crowds gathered outside the offices again on Wednesday, with some saying they weren't going to leave until the UN helped them.

“The xenophobia has become so bad. We can't live our lives,” said a Tanzanian woman, cradling a baby. “Now we have to go home.”

A Burundian man said they had been “let down” by the UN, which had failed to protect them from xenophobic violence and had not ensured they were issued with the documentation required to live a productive life.

“We are just forgotten about. We are nothing to anyone,” he said.

Neither home affairs nor the UNHCR responded to requests for comment at the time of writing.

Nahimana Mohammed has been in SA for nearly 10 years, having arrived from Burundi. Standing in a more than 600m home affairs queue on Wednesday, he said his was “a life of suffering”.

“In the township where we are living, they are burning down my business, threatening my sister who lives alone with her four children.” 

He said locals from Samora Machel informal settlement, where he lives, had threatened to rape and kill his sister.

“We have been losing our brothers and sisters every day. There are people who wait for us outside home affairs and when we go home try to kill us,” Mohammed said.

He complained that he had never been issued with the correct asylum-seeking documents, despite having applied for them repeatedly. 

His quest for the documents had seen him travel to the office, beneath the Nelson Mandela Boulevard flyover, where many foreigners congregate at night.

“My kids are going to high school, but they don't have documents. I have to fight with home affairs daily. We need help. If I get it I will leave this place,” he said.