A huge bag of chicken and bunches of spinach were being prepared for hundreds of foreign nationals still camping out at the UN High Commission for Refugees’ offices in Cape Town’s CBD on Monday, in the hopes of being evacuated from SA amid safety fears.  

“If there is any generous country that still wants to help, we are ready to go to that place where we can feel safe,” Jean-Pierre Balous, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told News24. 

They are hoping that the refugee agency will assist them and have plastered the pillars at the entrance of Waldorf Arcade with pictures of people who have been injured or attacked, seemingly just because they are foreign.

A toddler wailed as his mother stirred a pot of mielie meal at the entrance to St George’s Arcade, which is off one of the cobbled walkways parallel to Adderley Street. Rows and rows of blankets and pillows, with flip-flops neatly positioned at the end of the makeshift beds, filled the arcade. 

Bags at the ready in Cape Town

Bags at the ready in Cape Town. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Many people slept, blankets over their ears to block the cacophony of chatter around them. Children played with little toy cars and a group of women played a board game drawn on the side of a torn off piece of cardboard. 

“They have to do something to make the day shorter,” said one man. 

The occupation began on October 8.

READ | Numbers swell outside UN offices in Cape Town as foreign nationals demand evacuation over safety fears 

Piles of luggage and more bedding are stacked against an outside pillar. 

“We are ready to go,” said Balous, adding an estimated 80 children also lived there, and those of school-going age were being forced to carry on with school, even though their parents worry about them being victimised.

The scene was juxtaposed against the announcement by Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato on Monday that the Mother City was voted as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

According to a survey done by Flight Network, a Canadian online travel agency, Cape Town came seventh out of 50 desired worldwide destinations for tourists. 

Balous said a similar sit-in was being held in Pretoria and he understood that a meeting would be taking place on Monday with the refugee agency to try and resolve the situation. 

They are relying on friends to have somewhere to wash and use the toilet, and some business people have taken small collections and presented it to the women in the group to purchase food. 

“I go to my friend’s house to bath,” said one man. 

“I have to buy my water,” said another.

But the refugee agency made it clear last week that group settlement was not an option, that it was not taking names for relocation, and there were no buses or planes coming to evacuate refugees and asylum seekers from SA. 

Resettlement option

After the attacks in Katlehong recently, xenophobia was blamed, and a private airline took a group of people back to Nigeria at no charge. 

The refugee agency added resettlement was only an option for a “very small number of refugees” with strict criteria, which it said most refugees do not meet. The criteria was set by resettlement countries, not the refugee agency.

It said other grievances have been raised in daily meetings with the agency.

These include access to documentation and the renewal of documentation.

The refugee agency said it was working with the South African government to find solutions as quickly as possible, adding the groups do not represent all refugees in SA. 

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, visited the country last week and met President Cyril Ramaphosa and Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to discuss refugees and asylum seekers in SA.

Grandi met refugees and asylum seekers in Pretoria and Johannesburg, and held a video conference with those in Cape Town. 

They raised concerns over the timeframes of the asylum process, and the growing process of not being able to access and review documentation, which had an impact on them getting jobs and services. 

He noted the number of resettlement places worldwide were dropping.