More than 500 refugees and asylum seekers are about to enter their fifth month at a church in South Africa’s coastal city of Cape Town, as businesses in the neighbourhood continue to call for their eviction.
The majority of the refugees are living inside the central Methodist Church with others camping nearby. They said they do not feel safe living in South Africa’s townships
They have vowed not to leave the church’s premises until they are resettled outside South Africa.
The country’s asylum system has been criticised for taking too long and South Africa has been blighted by xenophobic attacks.
Local business owners have called for the group to be evicted saying it is obstructing their tourist souvenirs businesses located near the church.
Nadine Nkurikiye, who has been living in South Africa for 13 years, told the BBC that she fled ethnic tensions in her native Burundi only to be raped in a country she thought was safe.
“What I’m asking is only for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to help us, to give us a place where we can be safe, where they can accept us like human beings, because South Africa doesn’t treat us like human beings,” said Nkurikiye.
While many South Africans have been sympathetic to the plight of the refugees, local businesses and residents said they have had enough of their presence.
For four months they have had to deal with makeshift tents, people sleeping and urinating on pavements, they said.
The UNHCR has said it does not do group resettlement and that all applications are reviewed on a “case-by-case basis”.
The South African Human Rights Commission says the refugees have been misinformed by their leaders.
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