The City of Cape Town is going back to court to get clarity on why the police are refusing to arrest a group of refugees for allegedly being in contempt of court by sleeping in public – a violation of the city’s by-laws.
“The city will be returning to the Western Cape High Court for further relief regarding the situation,” said a member of the Mayoral Committee for Safety JP Smith on Thursday.
This was after 200 refugees walked to the Cape Town Central police station on Monday after being removed from a park near the Cape Peninsula University of Technology to hand themselves over for arrest. The police would not arrest them.
Smith said the City understands that the police believe their job is to protect the sheriff of the court when the warning that the by-laws will be enforced and they must be moved on, is readout. They also don’t want to arrest women and children in case the children get separated from their mothers.
Refugees living around the Central Methodist Mission Church in Cape Town were removed by police on Sunday, along with their belongings.
Smith said that the police acted similarly in October when they detained over 100 people holding a sit-in near the UNHCR’s offices in Waldorf Arcade, but then released them.
The city has had numerous meetings over the situation, and Smith said he had never heard so many opposing legal views before from various national government departments on an issue.
These range from insisting that the refugees are arrested for alleged by-law infringement, to insisting that they cannot be arrested.
It now wants all of this cleared up and will exercise its right to return to court for further clarity from the judge.
He said 781 foreigners went to a hall in Salt River to have their refugee and asylum status in South Africa determined following the sit-in.
They are asking that the UNHCR take them out of South Africa to another host country, saying they have either been the target of xenophobic violence or are scape-goated for the crime.
They accepted an invitation for shelter at the nearby Central Methodist Mission on Greenmarket Square. Since then there has been a situation where NGOs and religious leaders were rounded on, charities such as the Gift of the Givers were turned away, and the group appeared to have divided into two camps – aligned to JP Balous, or Papy Sukami.
Some of the people started living in tents and awnings around the church in difficult conditions.
The local craft traders, hoteliers and coffee shops complained that their businesses were collapsing because the square had turned into a tent-town with people washing, cooking and doing their laundry in the open.
The City applied to the Western Cape High Court for an interim order to remove the outside group for alleged violation of these activities which are against the city’s by-laws.
Acting Judge Daniel Thulare gave the city seven days to verify who is living there, and to provide a venue and transport for this exercise.
Of the 781 people interviewed at the facility in Salt River, 538 people had papers that confirm their legal right to stay in South Africa.
The figure of 781 people assessed had also grown from original 685 living around the church when the situation began last October.
A group of extra people had apparently descended on the square on the rumor that they might eventually get free housing via the Salt River verification process.
Smith stressed this is not going to happen because it would mean the refugees would “jump the queue” of South Africans already on the housing list.
He said the bottom line is that the City of Cape Town cannot force national government departments such as the Department of Home Affairs, the police or the Department of Social Development to do anything, so it needs clarity from the court on how to move forward.
The latest operation has cost the City around R500 000 so far.
During a visit to the site near the police station on Thursday, News24 was told that a lawyer had offered to help the group, and they were waiting for advice on whether to accept reintegration or stay where they are.
The City is holding a free concert on Thursday night to revitalize Greenmarket square and get foot traffic back in for the crafters and businesses around the church.