The United Nations Country Team, led by the UN Resident Coordinator, Nardos Bekele-Thomas, met with senior officials from various national and local government bodies, in a multi-stakeholders meeting called by Commissioner Angie Makwetla of the South African Human Rights Commission. The multi-stakeholders’ meeting took place on 21 October at the UNHCR Office in Pretoria, and some representatives of refugees also joined to share their concerns.
The multi-stakeholders discussed in detail the challenges being presented by protesting refugees and asylum seekers. Since 8 October 2019, some refugees and asylum-seekers have been encamped outside the premises of UNHCR in Pretoria and Cape Town. The sit-in protests, involving approximately 70-200 persons in Pretoria and 300-700 in Cape Town, are on-going and have largely been peaceful. The meeting, which was later joined by representatives of the protesting refugees, discussed solution options as well as the root causes of the protest. The stakeholders, with specific roles and responsibilities to provide assistance to refugees, reaffirmed their commitment to deliver services on an individual basis after a needs assessment.
Since the very beginning of the protests, UNHCR has been in regular contact with the refugees and asylum-seekers who shared their concerns mainly about personal security and challenges with regard to identity and other civil documentation which affect their ability to access services and livelihood opportunities.
Some refugees also asked to be resettled, all together, to third countries. UNHCR explained that this is not a realistic option. Resettlement is reserved for a small number of refugees, undertaken on a case by case basis, after meeting precise criteria determined by resettlement countries. In addition, the number of resettlement places available worldwide has significantly decreased.
During Monday’s meeting, Government authorities, United Nations agencies, NGOs and representatives from the refugee and host communities acknowledged refugees’ concerns, committed to continue engaging with refugee representatives and communities in a constructive manner and working together to find the best solutions to address the current situation. The protesting refugees were asked to disperse peacefully as their protracted sit-in outside UNHCR Offices was causing a public disturbance and presenting health risks.