A South African court Monday granted an order to Cape Town authorities to remove hundreds of refugees who have been squatting for four months on a busy street of the popular tourist destination.
Judge Daniel Thulare said the city had the right to uphold its bylaws, which prohibit sleeping, washing, defecating or cooking on the streets.
The city sought the injunction after around 700 foreign nationals, mainly from the DR Congo and Burundi, moved into Cape Town’s central Greenmarket Square last year following a spate of xenophobic attacks.
Since then, around one-third of the businesses in and around the square in the heart of the city’s business district have shut down because of the occupation.
The asylum-seekers initially staged a sit-in protest at a building hosting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the city in October, asking to be relocated to another country.
They were evicted from the building, after which they sought refuge at a nearby Methodist church, where they stayed for a few weeks.
They were asked to leave when the church became overcrowded, at which point they turned violent.
Some, mainly women with children, have remained in the church, while the rest of the asylum-seekers have taken up residence on the pavements of Greenmarket.
“The court needs to protect the city but also to uphold the rights of the respondents,” said the judge, giving the authorities seven days to execute the order.
The city had complained of “unhealthy odours from the use of streets and sidewalks as toilets”, the judge said in the ruling, adding: “The smell was unbearable. The noise, fights and sexual acts in public by the respondents raised concern.”
In a statement the city mayor Dan Plato was “relieved that the court has recognised the need for municipalities to be able to enforce its by-laws to ensure its proper functioning”.
One of the refugee leaders, Papy Sukami, told AFP he was “not happy” with the ruling.
The asylum seekers say they want to be given a new life in another country.
Officially, South Africa is home to 268,000 refugees and asylum seekers, according to government figures. They are mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. AFP