NATIONAL NEWS - Foreign nationals who protested outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Pretoria were allegedly “lured into joining the protest”.
Protest leaders allegedly promised them residency in, among other countries, Canada, New Zealand, Dubai, Namibia and the United States, according to home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Motsoaledi said this was discovered after the 433 refugees were accommodated temporarily at the Lindela holding facility.
“After verification, almost half of them voluntarily returned to their homes in South Africa.”
Motsoaledi said there were currently 122 women with their children.
“Those who voluntarily returned to their homes indicated that they were lured into joining the protest action because the leaders promised them greener pastures of resettlement by the high commissioner in other countries.
“It all started with a letter from a little known organisation, namely Women and Children at Concern (WCC) led by JP Balus and his wife, Aline Bukuru,” said Motsoaledi.
He said in July 2019, the WCC addressed a letter to the UNHCR in Pretoria, imploring it to resettle asylum seekers and refugees to another country because of “xenophobic attacks” in South Africa.
“In August and September, the UNHCR responded to the letter and indicated that resettlement to another country was a remote possibility as South Africa was regarded as a stable and peaceful democracy with enviable progressive immigration and refugee laws.”
This came as the refugees gathered outside the UNHCR office in Pretoria last year around October.
Motsoaledi said the gathering started outside the offices of UNHCR in Pretoria led by Aline Bukuru, in the form of a protest.
He said as days went by the “unruly crowd” increased around the Brooklyn area which led to the erecting of makeshift tents in the streets, pavements and gates of homes.
Motsoaledi said the residents of Brooklyn and Waterkloof eventually reported the matter to the police and the Tshwane metro.
“They requested the two state organs to take appropriate action.”
Motsoaledi said the metro in particular was requested to enforce its by-laws during the situation.
“I must point out that while the events in Pretoria unfolded, I addressed a letter to the president of the South African Local Government Association (Salga) in which I expressed strong sentiments of disapproval of the failure of the Tshwane metro to enforce by-laws.”
Motsoaledi said he urged the mayor of Tshwane at the time to enforce the by-laws “as it became clear that they were reluctant to do so in cases involving foreign nationals”.
“The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) was also cited as a party to the proceedings.”
He said in court, the metro adopted the attitude that the issue of foreign nationals fell squarely on the shoulders of the DHA.
“We disagreed, because mainly the issue of enforcement of by-laws falls under the jurisdiction of the Tshwane metro.”
He said the high court issued two orders, whereby the DHA, the metro and police were ordered to engage the protesters to ascertain their identities.
“Prior to the sheriff’s announcement of the order, which gave the protesters seven days to vacate the affected areas, they jumped the walls and invaded the premises of the UNHCR.”
He said the UNHCR demanded protection from the government.
“The male protesters were arrested for trespassing, while the women and children were accommodated temporarily at Lindela holding facility after the Tshwane metro refused to offer temporary shelter as is enjoined by the constitution and legislation.”
Motsoaledi said since the temporary accommodation, a verification process was conducted at various police stations and Lindela. It found that the majority of the people were in fact asylum seekers and refugees.
He said the unruly refugee situation that the Tshwane metro faced reminded state organs to co-operate with each other in the spirit of co-operative governance as enjoined by section 41 of the constitution.
“Municipalities are duty bound to enforce by-laws and discharge their statutory and constitutional duties and responsibilities accordingly.”
He said in various meetings of state organs and other stakeholders convened by the SAHRC, consensus was reached that the only way forward was reintegration of the protesters back to communities in which they were living before embarking on the protest action.
“Indeed, some have already gone back to such communities.”