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Bid to remove refugees near UNHCR offices in Pretoria delayed yet again

Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants camp outside the UNHCR office in Pretoria. They survive on handouts from strangers.
Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants camp outside the UNHCR office in Pretoria. They survive on handouts from strangers.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

A bid by residents, who want the high court in Pretoria to order the removal of refugees from their residential areas, will continue to be heard for a third day on Thursday.

Judge Natvarlal Ranchod stood the matter down on Wednesday after a number of respondents in the matter, including the police and home affairs ministers, sought to oppose the application by the Brooklyn and Eastern Areas Citizens Association and Waterkloof Homeowners Association.

When the urgent application by the associations was first heard on Tuesday, lawyers for the ministers said they would abide by the decision of the court.

Ranchod then gave the parties until Wednesday to agree on a draft court order to suit the associations' demands, which included that the court order the removal of refugees camped outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria.

The parties spent part of Tuesday negotiating the order, but failed to reach an agreement.

The refugees, who have camped outside the UNHCR offices from October 7, pleading that they be sent to other countries, were not represented in proceedings before court.

The associations are complaining about the behaviour of the refugees, whom they accuse of causing a nuisance by defecating, urinating and undressing in public.

On Wednesday, counsel for the minister of home affairs, Seth Nthai SC, said they disagreed with the draft order prepared by the associations.

Nthai said some of the orders proposed were not practically possible to comply with.

One of the orders proposed was that the department of home affairs must ascertain the identities of the refugees and make available a document containing the names of each of the refugees to the associations.

Nthai said the ministry could not comply.

Ranchod said the correct path the ministry should have taken was to file a notice to oppose the application by the applicants.

Counsel for the minister of police and station commander of Brooklyn police station, Tebogo Ramahlaha, said the order proposed by the associations imposed duties on the minister and the station commander that they were not lawfully able to comply with.

The proposed order said if the refugees contravened bylaws, the minister and the station commander must remove the refugees from the sidewalks, parks and public roads with immediate effect.

Ramahlaha said only the national commissioner of police and the Gauteng police commissioner, which the associations should have cited in their application, were capable of complying with orders sought by the association.

Aline Bukuru, one of the refugees camping outside the UN offices and who attended the court proceedings, said after the matter was stood down that they were vulnerable and went to the UNHCR to get protection.

“We are there for the reason of security that forces us to seek protection from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We have no business with home affairs. We know the department of home affairs has been violent against refugees for a very long time,” Bukuru, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said.

Bukuru said first prize for the refugees was to get out of SA and be transported anywhere around the world, except their home countries, which they had left because of problems.

“We have been victims of killings in SA for 11 years,” Bukuru said.