South Africa is a country that attracts economic migrants and refugees from all over the world. However, despite its progressive asylum policies, the country has seen sporadic episodes of xenophobic violence. Recently, the South African police evicted over 100 asylum seekers who had been camping outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria for more than three years.
The asylum seekers had been living in makeshift tents outside the UNHCR offices, asking to be relocated to other countries after a spate of xenophobic violence in 2019. However, last week, the Pretoria municipality secured a high court order to remove them, and the police carried out the eviction on Friday. The refugees were taken to the Lindela Repatriation Centre, which is a temporary holding centre for undocumented migrants who are earmarked for deportation to their countries of origin.
Scores of police officers led by the sheriff’s department carried out the eviction with the aid of immigration and other officers. Using a megaphone, state attorney Kobus Meijer warned the people living in the encampment that they would be arrested and detained if they resisted removal. Some families vacated voluntarily while others protested.
One woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo shouted, “It’s better for me to die here” because “I am not going in Lindela”. The UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Padoan told the AFP news agency that “they are asking that we transport them to a refugee camp in another country, but this is outside of our mandate.” The UNHCR urged the authorities carrying out the evictions to do so “peacefully and that families are treated humanely, with dignity and respect”, Padoan said.
South Africa has some of the world’s most progressive asylum policies, allowing foreigners to apply for refugee status and work. However, human rights groups say that the application system is flawed and backlogged, leaving many asylum seekers stuck in limbo for years. As the continent’s most industrialised economy, South Africa is also a magnet for economic migrants.
The situation has stoked resentment among jobless South Africans and fuelled sporadic outbursts of xenophobic violence. The violence has been led by right-wing parties and anti-migration militia like Operation Dudula. Despite this, South Africa remains a popular destination for economic migrants and refugees, who are drawn by the country’s economic opportunities and progressive asylum policies.
In conclusion, the eviction of over 100 asylum seekers from outside the UNHCR offices in Pretoria highlights the challenges faced by both refugees and economic migrants in South Africa. While the country has some of the world’s most progressive asylum policies, the application system is flawed and backlogged, leaving many people stuck in limbo for years. This situation has stoked resentment among jobless South Africans and fuelled sporadic outbursts of xenophobic violence. Despite this, South Africa remains a popular destination for economic migrants and refugees, who are drawn by the country’s economic opportunities and progressive asylum policies.