The Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg says some Zimbabwean immigrants have opted to go back home rather than move to Soweto after the church took a decision to close down its central Johannesburg ministry to refugees.
The new superintendent of the church, reverend Ndumiso Ncombo, told The New Age that the church was still housing more than 200 refugees, the majority of them from Zimbabwe.
He said those who were willing to remain in South Africa would be assisted by the church and the department of social development and home affairs to settle.
“We will also, as a church, pay for those who want to go back home,” Ncombo said.
The church has increased its security to ensure that the number of refugees does not grow.
“We have put burglar gates on two of the doors and we have security to control access in and out of the building. We are also monitoring the situation with the community through a database.”
Ncombo rubbished claims that the refugees would be attacked at a Soweto community centre that the church had planned to move them to.
“Zimbabweans have been living in Soweto for a while, that place is safe. Those who are saying that must stop fabricating things.” The church said it would give the remaining refugees in the church until the end of February to find alternative accommodation.
In 2000, the church began to take in a few dozen vulnerable people who lived on the streets and soon attracted undocumented migrants from countries including Burundi, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.
In 2008 xenophobic attacks against African immigrants and political turmoil in Zimbabwe saw the numbers of refugees in the church swell to more than 3000 including more than 100 unaccompanied children.
The church says it will continue to help refugees. According to Ncombo the church will spend more than R20m to renovate the Johannesburg building after years of housing homeless immigrants there. The New Age