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900+ CT refugees to be repatriated if they refuse to reintegrate into society

The refugees have been temporarily sheltered at the Wingfield Military Base and Paint City since the start of the lockdown.

FILE: Refugees living in Cape Town spent the night at the Central Methodist Mission Church after clashes with police during their removal from the UNHCR's offices on 30 October 2019. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/EWN.

DURBAN - The Home Affairs Department said on Thursday that over 900 refugees who had previously camped at the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town would be repatriated to their home countries if they refused to return to South African neighbourhoods by the end of next month.

The refugees have been temporarily sheltered at the Wingfield Military Base and Paint City since the start of the lockdown. Before then, they were camping out in the Waldorf Arcade, then at the Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square, and moved again to the streets near the Central Police Station. The refugees had to relocate themselves after fearing xenophobic violence in the neighbourhoods they lived in.

In a sit-down interview with Eyewitness News, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Njabulo Nzuza explained the country simply could not accede to demands by some refugees that they must be taken to countries of their choice.

Refugees temporarily sheltered at two sites in Cape Town have previously told EWN that they felt abandoned by the government. They were forcibly removed by police from the church, where children were pulled from their families and women were pushed to the floor during the removals. Some were arrested by police.

But Nzuza disagreed: “We have been very generous when it comes to refugees. What we have seen are elements of criminality that have been crept up and the abuse of the state of refugees.”

Nzuza said the country has done what it can to assist the refugees.

“Our role when it comes to refugees is to offer them status and in South Africa, we don’t have what we call refugee camps and as such, we always encourage them to be integrated to the community.”

Nzuza said South Africa has been in constant communication with several diplomatic missions and remains willing to assist in the repatriation of refugees.

Watch: Refugees in SA: We want to live not just survive

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