William and Mary Law School

Monitoring and a Protest

About two weeks ago, security guards at the Refugee Reception Center at the Old Customs House on the Foreshore turned hoses on refugees who were trying to force their way into the building.  After waiting to be served, the refugees frustrated and angry tried to forcibly enter the Center.  Some refugees had been waiting close to a week or more just to be seen by a South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) official.  Others had spent multiple nights outside of the office with their only protection from the elements being the Nelson Mandela Boulevard overpass.  In response to the recent violence, PASSOP sent another intern and me to monitor, take pictures, and get a sense of what was happening at the Refugee Reception Center (RRC).

Refugee Reception Center at the Old Customs House

I arrived at the RRC around 9:00 am and found thousands of refugees from all over Africa queued up to get in.  Despite being in what appeared to be four lines, confusion reigned.  Over the two and half hours, I spent monitoring only about 25 to 30 people were let into the building and only one official from the RRC appeared to be helping divide refugees into lines and pre-screening them to be seen.  Waiting is bad enough when you can sit and be comfortable but the situation at the RRC was much worse.  Besides having nowhere to sit except the gravel lot underneath the highway, the weather was cold and it rained on and off, which dropped the temperature even more.  I witnessed and experienced only a fraction of what most there had but after two and half hours, I had enough.  I cannot imagine what it is like for those who wait days and even weeks just to be seen.  In response to the violence, the DHA launched an investigation into alleged corruption of officials and the force used by security guards.

Besides monitoring at the RRC, PASSOP co-sponsored a march to Parliament protesting the recent violence directed at Somali refugee in Johannesburg.  The rally was held on Friday, June 7th and the Somalis marched from a mosque located near the Cape Peninsula University of Technology down to the South African Parliament.  During the march, the Somalis chanted, “We want protection! We are just like you!”  The protest lasted about two hours and stayed peaceful.