Future of the refugees in limbo

JP Balous, from Congo, came to Cape Town 14 years ago, due to the war in his country. I was attacked and my belongings were taken. I was stabbed, and people wanted to kill me We laid charges, but the case vanished and was thrown out.

Meetings to find common ground between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and refugees who sought shelter in the Central Methodist Mission (CMM) church were said to be going ahead this week.

In the meantime, more than 400 people and around 150 children continue to live in cramped conditions in the church on Greenmarket Square, while different organisations help to provide food and medical care after they were evicted from the nearby Waldorf Arcade on Wednesday October 30.

The spokesperson for the group, JP Balous, a refugee from the Congo, said they want the South African government to release them so that they can live in safer conditions.

He said they wanted to be anywhere but in South Africa, where they felt unsafe and were robbed of the better life they searched for when they left their countries.

“We know that this is a temporary safe space, however, if the church cannot help us, we will go back to the streets. We are not backing down – we cannot go back to the communities because it is unsafe.”

In a prepared statement, the church asked that people be patient while they were trying to find a solution, and thanked everyone for their support. 

“As CMM we are also very clear that this is a temporary ‘safe place’ and we hope and encourage all role players to seek a solution that will include vacating CMM. We are very aware that we are not the solution to this crisis. At best we offer a moment of calm in which we hope people can find one another to talk, listen and negotiate. It takes courage to protest, but it also takes courage to negotiate.”

In the statement, they expressed concern about the overcrowding. “It is increasingly becoming unsafe, mainly due to the health risks naturally associated with an over-crowded and under-ventilated space – not to mention our complete lack of adequate toilet and bathroom facilities.

The health risk is especially high among the young children, including many babies, as well as pregnant mothers. And of course fire risk is heightened by the over-crowding.”

Reverend Alan Storey told the CapeTowner that they were waiting for a solution, and that meetings would commence this week.

The UNHCR did not respond to enquiries from CapeTowner about the way forward, and once a response is received, it will be printed.

In the meantime, the CapeTowner spoke to the refugees about their experiences.