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City plans to deal with refugees
10 March 2009

Downtown Joburg

The City is putting in place measures to deal with the growing number of refugees moving into downtown Joburg.

Methodist bishop, Paul Verryn
Methodist bishop, Paul Verryn

THE City of Johannesburg is putting in place immediate measures to deal with the growing number of refugees in the vicinity of the Central Methodist Church in central Johannesburg.

With the recent closing down of refugee camps nationally, the inner city has experienced an increase in the number of new arrivals, particularly near the church on the corner of Pritchard and Smal streets.

Among the provisions being finalised is the opening of a City-owned building for temporary accommodation and the installation of temporary toilets in the area.

The City will also continue with regular health inspections, keeping the area clean, and will bring in additional security.

To realise a lasting solution to the growing problem, it will work with the national and provincial government, starting with a special meeting with the MEC for local government, Qedani Mahlangu, on Wednesday, 11 March. The meeting will identify appropriate intergovernmental responses.

The City is also calling for support from the business sector and the Methodist Church.

Managing the precinct
It is estimated that as many as 4 000 migrants - the majority from Zimbabwe - are living in and around the church, as well as in the Smal Street pedestrian alleyway.

In a statement, the City confirms that the most critical short-term concern is to manage the precinct effectively around the Central Methodist Church. It has has put in place a number of measures to facilitate day-to-day management here.

"With growing health concerns, the City's department of health made regular inspections of the church premises, and also fumigated and took other preventative measures."

At the same time, the City established a joint operational committee involving a number of departments including urban management, environmental health, emergency management services, and community development, which engages closely with the Methodist Church and Home Affairs.

Daily cleaning of the streets, including the use of high powered hoses; more regular waste collection; additional security around the affected areas; restriction of trading; and developing house rules for the church and the precinct are also being put in place.

Some areas in the precinct are being fenced off to minimise the effect on business while at the same time ensuring continued access to the church.

Long-term
But it is finding a long-term solution to the problem which requires urgent attention, the City believes.

Following the rise in the number of migrants in the area during the latter part of 2008, the City started engaging extensively with the church and the business community.

On 30 January it held an urgent meeting with the church's Bishop Paul Verryn to discuss immediate measures to manage the situation and to find a longer-term solution.

At the meeting Verryn asked for assistance with emergency accommodation for refugees. The City indicated that it could make a building available for lease to the Methodist Church, subject to conditions on the management of the building and of the existing church premises.

The lease is being prepared but the immediate challenge is the refurbishment of the building, which has budget implications. And this will by no means be a long-term solution with refugee numbers already greater than can be accommodated, the City has indicated.

To improve management of the area further, at least 40 marshals would be appointed to control the crowds; at the same time all those in the precinct would be registered and further movement of people into the precinct would be restricted, the City confirmed.

Business
Some businesses in the area have become impatient with the growing problems relating to migrants to the area.

In one instance, Pitje Chambers in Pritchard Street has made a High Court application, with the City as first respondent in the matter.

The City maintains that it has a good working relationship with businesses, and while it will contest the case it will continue to work collaboratively with the business sector in this regard.

"The City appreciates the impact of the situation on business activities in the areas and is working closely with the business sector to manage it."

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