City enforces by-laws, removes refugees

Refugees camp outside the District Six Museum in Albertus Street on Monday March 3. Picture: Karen Watkins

The City of Cape Town is continuing its operation to enforce an order granted by the Western Cape High Court in respect of the refugees who have been illegally occupying open spaces within the CBD, said Richard Bosman, executive director for safety and security, on Tuesday.

He said the court order granted on February 17 gave the City the go-ahead to enforce its by-laws in the Greenmarket Square area.

Refugees who had been living inside and outside the Central Methodist Mission in Greenmarket Square since October were removed from the pavements on Sunday but then sought shelter in St Mary’s Church opposite Parliament.

This led to clashes with authorities outside St Mary’s Church and eight refugees were arrested.

“The church laid a charge of trespassing and the City then supported the South African Police Service in removing the group from the church premises,” said Mr Bosman.

On Monday, a group of the refugees settled on open land near Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

Mr Bosman said the City’s enforcement agencies had since started an operation to move them from this piece of land.

He said according to the court order, the refugees who have been moved from Greenmarket Square were not allowed any conduct in contravention of the City’s by-laws anywhere else in the city.

Neither the City nor any other agency had to provide alternative accommodation for the group.

“We appeal to the refugees to return to the areas they were living in before the initial sit-in protest in St George’s Mall,” said Mr Bosman.

Sunday’s operation followed a February 17 court order allowing for a seven-day verification process by the Department of Home Affairs of all refugees who had been occupying the Central Methodist Mission and surrounds.

That verification process ended on Friday, paving the way for the City’s by-law enforcement operation.

During Monday’s operation highly emotional refugees, including women with tears streaming down their faces and with children and babies crying at their sides, wanted to know from officers where they should go.

But the officers, guided by their commanders, kept steadily advancing on the group, all the while forcing them to retreat with their meagre possessions to the corner of Constitution and Tennant streets near District Six.

The cries of the retreating refugees included accusations that the government, City and other authorities were behaving inhumanely.

Some of the refugees called on officers to shoot them as they were “tired of being pushed from pillar to post” with nowhere to go.

A refugee single-mother of three, cradling her two-month-old grandchild in her arms said: “They (authorities) don’t feel sad, even for the children. Look how the children are even sleeping outside.

“They must leave us alone. We want to leave this country. We are tired. We don’t have the papers. They don’t want us in this country, they don’t like us.

“I’m ready, even if they send me back to my country.”

Police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk confirmed eight arrests had been made on Sunday.

“The suspects were charged with trespassing at St Mary’s Church, Hope Street and the city centre, and taken to the Cape Town Magistrate’s court for their first appearance.” – Cape Times