PLIGHT OF MIGRANTS
‘I would rather die than go to Lindela’ – refugees speak out after high court sends them to repatriation centre
The high court has ordered the City of Tshwane and the Department of Home Affairs to provide temporary accommodation for refugees who have been living outside UN offices in fear of xenophobic attacks.
Jacob Mngondu (not his real name), from the Democratic Republic of Congo, fled to the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) after experiencing a violent xenophobic attack in 2019, where he was beaten up and his wife kidnapped and sexually assaulted.
He has been staying in a makeshift structure on Waterkloof Road outside the UN agency’s offices.
When Mngondu first set up camp outside the UNHRC, he was one of 35 people – he is now one of over 100 refugees with similar stories.
The high court has ordered the City of Tshwane and the Department of Home Affairs to provide temporary accommodation for refugees who have been living outside the UNHCR offices. The ruling instructed the department to accommodate them in the Lindela Repatriation Centre in Krugersdorp for six months.
Although the centre is essentially a prison, refugees will be able to move around freely and will be provided with basics such as beds. The refugees will be relocated on Wednesday morning.
Having been released from Lindela following a 2019 protest, a group smaller than the current 130 moved to the pavement outside the UN refugee agency’s office. Residents in the area have been trying to get them moved ever since.
On 4 April, the Pretoria High Court handed down a final judgment evicting the refugees. A prohibitory interdict prevents several activities around the sidewalks, parks, public roads and private property of Waterkloof Road, Brooklyn.
“The First Applicant (City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality) shall provide those occupiers present at the affected area, and only those persons who are present, and who have not voluntarily vacated the affected area, with temporary accommodation for a period of six months,” read the ruling.
“In order for the First Applicant to comply with its obligations to provide temporary accommodation as set out in paragraph 2.1 above, the Second Respondent (in accordance with its tender) is directed to move the refugees to Lindela. Provide accommodation at Lindela in a separate section where food, bedding, and other necessities will be provided and all families will be kept together. The facility will not be a detention facility and the refugees will be free to come and go as they please.
“This notice serves to inform you that the eviction from and relocation to Lindela will be undertaken on Wednesday, 19 April 2023, commencing at [9am]. Officials from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) will be on-site to assist all occupiers present at the affected area and to direct you to the vehicles that will transport you to Lindela. Provision will also be made for the transportation of your personal belongings to Lindela.
“Please take note that any individuals who refuse to be relocated and/or remain at the affected area after the DHA vehicles have left and/or who become violent will be arrested by the South African Police Service,” the judgment reads.
Dale McKinley, spokesperson for Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia, says Lindela is not fit for people.
“The situation in front of the UNHCR offices clearly cannot continue, but because of the general dysfunctionality of our immigration system/DHA in processing documents and regularising the status of refugees, Lindela becomes the default option.
“Lindela has long been a horrendous place – it was never designed to hold and accommodate refugees (and more especially children and families) for anything other than a very short period of time, because it was set up as a short-term deportation centre,” said McKinley.
“Because of the dysfunction already mentioned – coupled with its privatisation – Lindela’s main focus is not about care and respect or dignity of refugees, but about profit and xenophobic treatment of refugees and foreign nationals, overlaid with corruption.
“What this case confirms again is the dire need for a complete overhaul of SA’s immigration system and approach to refugees and asylum seekers in particular … a clean-out of the DHA and the closure of Lindela.”
One refugee who asked not to be named said she would rather die than go to Lindela:
“We have refugee status. We didn’t come to this country to fight anyone. But the government is trying to force us to fight. This is our last option. In 2019 they took us to Lindela and we didn’t fight … we didn’t tell Home Affairs to bring us here…
“It’s better to die than go to Lindela … In Lindela, winters are cold and there’s no hot water. Someone died there … there’s no food or medicine. If you try to buy food somewhere else, they will destroy it.
“If you take us there, you want us to die. It’s hell … rather they kill us here,” she said.
Her neighbour echoed her sentiments: “Lindela is a prison – we were there with our kids … three years with no electricity. They cut our electricity, even stopped the food. Lindela was hell. I can’t go there again.
“Is it a crime to be a refugee? What can we do? I don’t want to be in this country any more.”
McKinley said the situation should have been dealt with as far back as 2019.
“Both the DHA and UNHCR have been derelict in carrying out their relevant duties to find alternative solutions and, as a result, we now have the latest court ruling.” DM/MC