Refugees allegedly assault religious leaders, human rights officials in Cape Town

Faith leaders including Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and South African Human Rights (SAHRC) Commissioner Reverend Chris Nissen have allegedly been assaulted by refugees currently occupying the Greenmarket Square Methodist church in Cape Town.

About 200 hundred refugees have been occupying the building for almost two weeks now.

READ MORE: Police and migrants clash in downtown Cape Town

They sought refuge there after being forcibly removed from the offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees after a three-week sit-in.

The group is demanding to be repatriated to other countries because they say they feel unsafe in South Africa.

READ MORE: Cape Town police action against refugees under scrutiny

Non-governmental organisations, the SAHRC and faith leaders have for the past few weeks been negotiating with refugee groups, the UN, and the department of home affairs about what to do next as the UN says expatriation is not an option.

But on Friday, as faith leaders addressed the group, pandemonium broke out.

“Chaos broke out when some of the refugee leaders attacked another pastor in the church.
Then they assaulted me and then also the archbishop of Cape Town. There are people still in the church. We fear for their lives,” Nissen said.

“It’s becoming a hostage situation. Luckily the archbishop and I managed to get out. They hit him and they threw bottles at him,” he said.

Nissen said he doesn’t know the reason for the alleged assault.

“They went berserk. We gave them a report back on what we have done. And then another Congolese pastor came up and spoke and then they attacked the pastor. They then rushed the podium and attacked us,” Nissen said.

“We were clobbered,” Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba told the Mail & Guardian.

“I have a bump on my head, but I’ll be alright.”

Faith leaders were delivering the resolutions of meetings about the future of the refugees with three options on offer.

They would be offered repatriation to their home country if it was safe. Relocation to another country, on a case-by-case basis and dependent on whether another country would receive them. Or they would be offered reintegration into communities in Cape Town

Makgoba said this was not well received.

“If I were to put on my psychologist hat, I would describe this as termination anxiety. We were delivering the hard truth. Things they didn’t want to hear. So they expressed some level of anger,” Makgoba said.

The incidents in the Cape Town CBD follow tense scenes in Pretoria on Thursday when refugees camped outside the UNHCR’s office there was ordered by the North Gauteng High Court to move.

Police were called in when the refugees breached the walls of the UN agency to camp inside.

Refugee leaders at the church in Cape Town have not responded to requests for comment. 

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