Cape Times 23 March 2020

Cape Town – Refugees evicted recently from the city centre find themselves among the most at risk for contracting the coronavirus as they continue living on the street with little or no sanitation, disinfectant or medical supplies to fight the outbreak.

Refugees said yesterday that law enforcement authorities had sprayed disinfectant on pavements and areas where they live near Cape Town Central police station, but had also issued them with fines.

Refugee Patrick Ngandu Mkweba said law enforcement and traffic officers arrived at 7am yesterday, and issued a number of fines to people sleeping on the pavement.

“They gave a R300 fine to every person. They said we will have to pay the money at the court; if we don’t have money we must explain to the court why we are sleeping outside,” he said.

“After they were finished (spraying the pavement with disinfectant) we carried our possessions back to the pavements. 

“We are not worried about the coronavirus because the way we are being treated here, we are dying already. They did not give us any medication. 

“We don’t have peace here. We are traumatised. You can’t imagine how we are suffering here. We are tired. We want to leave this country.”

Mkweba reiterated the refugees’ demand to be taken to a refugee- friendly country.

City executive director for safety and security Richard Bosman said that following a Western Cape High Court final order earlier this month, the City would proceed with enforcing its by-laws. 

“An operation was held in Albertus Street (yesterday) morning where fines were issued for by-law transgressions. No person was removed (from the premises),” said Bosman.

He said the City had tabled numerous offers of assistance to the group, including assistance to seek access to private shelters in accordance with the rules for access of those facilities, taking into consideration the coronavirus outbreak.

“The City is again offering those occupiers who are willing to reintegrate into their former communities the transport to do so.”

Mayco member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien said officials held a meeting with the Street People’s Forum, and other affected parties to ascertain what support the City could lend in mitigating the risks presented by Covid-19 among the homeless community, including the group of refugees who have settled in Albertus Street.

Badroodien said the meeting agreed that all shelters would remain open, no street people containment would be supported, sector organisations would continue their feeding schemes, and that all shelters would explore and identify spaces that could be used for isolation if required.

The City would distribute soap to shelters and the sector organisations, and help with education and awareness drives around hygiene and other prevention tips, Badroodien said.

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