Cops clash with refugees in Pretoria
A tense stand-off erupted into violent scuffles as Tshwane metro police removed hundreds of refugees from the UNHCR office yard in Waterkloof. The confrontation came 24 hours after the refugees had scaled the fence of the property and set up camp – after being ordered to leave the pavement outside.
Displaced foreign nationals camped outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria were given three days to vacate the area or face eviction this week. In an attempt to escape this fate, members of the group scaled the fence and sought refuge in the grounds of the commissioner’s office. A trespassing charge had been laid against the invaders but attempts to get them to leave on Thursday 14 November failed. On Friday police moved in.
The SAPS blocked off vehicle access to the Waterkloof road, but police could be seen dismantling rough shelters and tents erected by the group and escorting people off the premises with their possessions. Some left peacefully, others resisted.
The migrants moved their protest onto UNHCR property in the early hours of Thursday morning – after the Pretoria High Court had handed down an order giving the more than 500 migrants three days to vacate and disperse from the area in front of the UNHCR office.
The migrant protesters began their sit-in outside the UNHCR building on 7 October, pleading with the refugee agency to relocate them outside South Africa.
Speaking to Daily Maverick on Friday morning, a woman with a baby on her back said she was pushed so hard by a policeman that she fell to the ground and sustained cuts to her hands and bruises on the sides of her body. She couldn’t understand why the police were removing her and the other refugees.
Women and children were ushered into police minibuses while most of the men were put into the backs of police trucks that are usually used to transport criminals to police stations. From the trucks, the men shouted, “Police xenophobia”, and jeered at officers.
The road was filled with hundreds of miserable faces of displaced women and children, the latter looking confused at the commotion. A woman jostled with police, shouting and gesticulating angrily as she tried to re-enter the property to retrieve belongings.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peter said the refugee group would be taken to police stations – not for detention but to be kept safe while officers tried to restore order.
She said the police’s intention was to abate lawlessness and they were enforcing the trespassing order and restoring law and order as peacefully as possible. She said a number of police were being treated for injuries sustained during the skirmishes as people resisted removal.
The refugees maintain that their lives are in danger as a result of rampant xenophobia and they want to leave South Africa. They are appealing to the UNHCR and South African government for help.
Wednesday’s court ruling called on the City of Tshwane, the Department of Home Affairs and the SAPS to ascertain the identities of the refugees and determine who among them have legal documentation and to, collectively, resolve the impasse.
UNHCR had not commented on Friday’s action by late afternoon. This article will be updated when comment it is received. MC