South African lawmakers urge immediate resolution to Cape Town refugee stalemate

South Africa
South Africa

South African lawmakers has called for an immediate resolution to the standoff between refugees and police in central Cape Town.

“It is untenable that the situation continues to persist, despite numerous attempted interventions that have not yielded desirable results,” Bongani Bongo, chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs said on Tuesday. He was speaking two days after hundreds of refugees, many of them asylum seekers, clashed with law enforcement officers who were enforcing a court order allowing the city to remove refugees illegally camping outside the Central Methodist Church in central Cape Town. The refugees, allegedly trying to escape what they call xenophobia attacks, have been camping outside the church since October last year, waiting for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate them in other countries.

There have been repeated clashes between the refugees and police. Several attempts to remove the refugees have failed. It is unfortunate that the refugees have persisted to undermine the laws of this country as a way of forcing the UNHCR to act in a way that is only satisfactory to them, despite information that the UNHCR is unable to assist, Bongo said in a statement emailed to Xinhua. South African Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi had informed the lawmakers that he had held numerous interactions with the countries the refugees say they are willing to relocate to, but these countries are unwilling to assist, according to Bongo.

The actions of the refugees are even more concerning considering that the xenophobia they refer to is not a factor in Cape Town, said Bongo. “South Africa welcomes refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the context of our history, but the pre-condition of any country accepting refugees is that the laws of the receiving country will be respected at all times,” Bongo highlighted. While the use of force is opposed, adherence to laws will prevent such actions in the future, he said. Bongo expressed hope that a reasonable resolution to this standoff can be found, especially for the women and children caught up in this standoff. He called on the refugees to consider reintegrating into the communities they came from before the start of the protest, to enable children to go back to school.

Furthermore, each individual must apply through the UNHCR process for further assistance, Bongo said. All levels of government should work together with the UNHCR and the refugees to find amicable solutions to the challenges the refugees face, he said. South Africa is host to some 274,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, according to the UNHCR. Grudge against foreigners who are blamed for taking up employment that should have been taken by locals has led to xenophobia-related attacks in the past.

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