Refugees holed up in Cape Town church appeal for shelter during lockdown

Refugees holed up in Cape Town church appeal for shelter during lockdown

Approximately one thousand people are sleeping inside and outside the Central Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town. Monday’s court order only applies to those outside the church. Archive photo: Madison Yauger / GroundUp

‘We are ready to move,’ said Papi Sukami, who leads a breakaway group of refugees sleeping on the pavement in Albertus Street, near the Cape Town Central police station.

Refugees left in limbo after their eviction from the Central Methodist Mission church, have appealed to the City of Cape Town to move them to a safe space ahead of the national lockdown.

“We are ready to move,” said Papi Sukami, who leads a breakaway group of refugees sleeping on the pavement in Albertus Street, near the Cape Town Central police station.

The group is hoping for a safe and hygienic space during the lockdown.

The City gave them a list of shelters that can accommodate them in line with disaster regulations that stipulate that no one can sleep on the street.

Small children played on the pavements and groups were separated by metal barriers, arranged in the shape of a room.

The entire group of about 700 refugees were forcibly removed after holding a sit-in protest outside the UNHCR’s offices in Waldorf Arcade, St George’s Mall, in October.

They moved into and around the Central Methodist Mission church.

There was a leadership dispute with one faction living inside, and another outside.

Those living outside were moved but eventually resettled at a site in Albertus Street, near the police station. A group of more than the 100 are still living inside the church, which is not allowed in terms of disaster management regulations.

While the group near the police station agreed to move, things are not as clear at the church. A sign outside asks visitors to keep out to protect them from the coronavirus.

A small argument ensued outside the church on Thursday morning as an official with a clipboard tried to discuss moving them.

A police van was parked nearby, but left after the women refused to move. Using strong language, she demanded to know why everybody suddenly cared about the people inside.

“There are children and unborn babies inside,” the woman shouted angrily.

Spokesperson for those in the church, Aline Bukuru told News24 that they would only leave the church if they were offered a dignified and safe place to stay.

Her husband, JP Balous, is living away from the shelter in line with his bail conditions.

Bukuru said they were not going to jeopardise their health and safety by walking through the streets of Cape Town in search of a shelter.

They will also not put their children near drug addicts and dangerous people who, she said, will be among those moving to shelters for the 21-day lockdown.

She said Italians who lived in nice homes succumbed to the virus, not just people living in the conditions they are living in.

The church’s Reverend Alan Storey would not comment.

The church was planning on applying for a court order to remove them due to hygiene and safety fears that have been bubbling since they took shelter last October.

It is understood that this has not yet gone to court.

In the meantime, children are left to run errands for those inside.

They share the church’s toilets and wash basins and sleep in the pews and on the floor.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.



today in print