South African police on Thursday stormed a church in Cape Town to evict hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers who had sought refuge there for months.
The migrants were living in the Central Methodist Church in Green Market Square and had been engaged in a long standoff with city authorities.
“On Thursday, 02 April 2020, various SAPS units under the command of Major General Andre Lincoln with the Department of Home Affairs (Dr Y Simmons) and the Department of Public Works executed an operation to remove a group of approximately 500 refugees and asylum seekers who had been occupying the Central Methodist Church at the Green Market Square in Cape Town in line with the National Disaster Management Act regulations (COVID-19),” the South African Police Service (SAPS) said in a statement.
According to local media, police gained entry into the church through the front and back doors and moved the migrants into waiting buses.
The SAPS said that the refugees and asylum seekers were relocated to an identified location in Bellville in line with COVID-19 restrictions. They are expected to stay there for the remainder of the 21-day lockdown.
“Officials from the department of Social Development and NGOs were on hand into the evening assisting the group, the majority of whom are women and children. SAPS will continue to keep an eye on the site,” the statement from the SAPS concluded.
The migrants claim that they will be at risk if moved to the areas identified by the government.
The migrants had previously demanded that the South African government facilitate their relocation to various countries, including the United States and Canada, as they had faced xenophobic threats in 2019.
Local media outlet eNCA reported that a few technicians were on site to ensure that the refugees will have electricity and added that there was a heavy security presence.
In early March, South African police also evicted hundreds of migrants who had been squatting for four months at the Greenmarket Square.
South Africa, Africa’s second-biggest economy, is seen as a prime destination for economic migrants, who are sometimes targeted by locals who blame them for the lack of jobs.