Refugees and asylum seekers in Cape Town say they have nothing to celebrate on Africa Day

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Refugees and asylum seekers who live in two tented communities in Cape Town say they have nothing to celebrate on Africa Day. They were part of a protesting group who occupied the Waldorf Arcade in Cape Town in 2019 where the UN’s refugee agency is based demanding relocation to other countries.

They sought refuge in the Central Methodist Mission Church for months, before the COVID-19 pandemic and its regulations came into effect in 2020. They were moved to the Paint City and Wingfield sites in Bellville and Maitland.

Their call to be relocated from South Africa, persists. This after nearly four years since their demands first surfaced, citing feeling unsafe and under attack in the country.

Government says there has been numerous attempts to assist by authorities including the United Nations. But the group still refuses to be either reintegrated into communities or repatriated to their home countries.

“We are not going to celebrate Africa day, why because we are not considered Africans here by the authority of the South African officials. So, while we are African people, we are being denied and neglected from anything,” says David Azazh, an Ethiopian national.

“When we try to go to the UN to complain they don’t even do anything. We got police to report, they don’t do anything that’s why we end up to say, no more South Africa, we went to the sitting in protest at the UNCR,” says Caroline Shemi Khajorira, a Kenyan National.

At the Wingfield site at Maitland, the sentiment is the same with residents mainly from Congo and DRC insisting they are not safe in South Africa.

Offering solutions

Government, however, says along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees it has bent over backwards in trying to offer solutions. It says the group’s demands to be relocated en masse, in particular to Canada, are impossible, and that the only two options they have is to reintegrate or be repatriated to their countries of origin.

Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi says since the lifting of Covid-19 regulations, there is no longer the requirement on government to provide the tented shelters. Motsoaledi says the only thing to be done at this stage is to seek an eviction order.

“That’s what we are planning there. The problem we are having at the moment home affairs does not own any of the land there so we can’t apply to court. The land in Maitland is owned by public works, and I don’t know why there were dilly dallying to apply for the removal, I’ve just spoken to the new minister of public works, Mr Sihle Zikalala, he said he will look into it. The land of paint City belongs to the city of Cape Town and we have also been asking them please apply for an eviction order so that we evict them that, that is the only other thing we can do, other than that there is nothing else,” says Motsoaledi.

Motsoaledi says of the initial 1 600 people protesting about 800 have taken up the offer of financial assistance for reintegration into South African communities or voluntary repatriation.

Africa Day | Refugees and asylum seekers say there’s nothing to celebrate: