Paint City refugees want to leave South Africa

Occupants of the Paint City refugee camp place banners on a fence describing their plight.

Occupants of Bellville’s Paint City refugee camp say the South African government has failed them, and they want the UN to step in.

The provincial police moved about 700 refugees to the Bellville site on Thursday April 2 after the national lockdown was imposed on Saturday March 27.

“We are not being treated like people,” said Aline Bukuru. “The government must step aside and let the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) help us because it is their mandate to help refugees. Hopefully, the UNHCR can help us leave South Africa and find better homes for us somewhere else.” 

The camp’s residents marked World Refugee Day on Saturday June 20 by placing banners describing their anger and frustration on the camp’s fence.

“We did this to show the people out there that we are not happy staying here and that we want better lives for ourselves and our children,” Ms Bukuru said. “There are a lot of people out there who think we are just taking freebies and are happy, but we are not happy with the way things work and we deserve better because we are people.” 

Ms Bukuru, who moved from the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Africa 13 years ago, said she and many others in the camp had been hauled to court and fined for not having the correct paperwork. 

“We apply for the permits and as asylum seekers, but you either never get your paperwork or you spend so much time waiting that the papers you have expire, and then you get fined. Also when you apply for asylum then the paper says you can only stay in the country for a maximum of six months and nobody is going to hire somebody that is only here for a short time. Our children cannot be registered at schools because they do not get birth certificates even though they are born here, and if we try to do our own business then we are victims of xenophobia.”

The UNCHR failed to comment by the time of publication. However, Richard Bosman, the City of Cape Town’s director for safety and security, said the City and the Department of Home Affairs had started a “process of engagement” with the refugees to reintegrate them into their communities.

But Ms Bukuru said the refugees hadn’t spoken to anyone from the City and despite visiting the UNCHR’s offices in the CBD several times she still had not been helped.

“All we get is promises and get told that we must wait. That is all they ever say to us, but we need to get answers because we cannot live like this for much longer. The people at the UNCHR also just take in our complaints, but nothing happens. The last time I was there was last year October, and nothing has happened. The local government does not even bother with us. When something happens to a South African, then you see the ministers all come to the people’s houses, but for us they do nothing.”