PRETORIA: More than a hundred asylum seekers who had been camping outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees headquarters in Pretoria for over three years have been removed by South African police.
Following a wave of xenophobic violence in 2019, hundreds of asylum seekers began living in temporary tents built outside UNHCR offices, pleading to be transported to other countries.
The Pretoria municipality obtained a high court order to remove them last week.
According to court documents, the refugees will be evicted and transported to the Lindela Repatriation Center, a temporary holding facility for undocumented migrants who are scheduled for deportation to their countries of origin.
The eviction was carried out by scores of police officers commanded by the sheriff’s department, with the assistance of immigration and other agencies.
Using a loudspeaker, state attorney Kobus Meijer informed the migrants that if they refused removal, they would be “arrested” and “detained.”
Some families voluntarily left, while others protested.
“It’s better for me to die here,” one immigrant said, because “I’m not going to Lindela.”
The woman, who is plainly distraught and wearing a dressing robe around her waist, is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Padoan, “they are asking that we transport them to a refugee camp in another country, but this is outside of our mandate.”
According to Padoan, the UNHCR urged the evicting authorities to do so “peacefully and with dignity and respect for families.”
South Africa has some of the most progressive asylum regulations in the world, allowing foreigners to petition for refugee status while also working.
However, human rights groups claim that the application system is defective and backlogged, putting many asylum applicants in limbo for years.
South Africa, as the continent’s largest industrialized country, is also a magnet for economic migrants, which has generated discontent among jobless South Africans and sporadic outbreaks of xenophobic violence.