Police evict asylum-seekers outside UN refugee office in S.Africa

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South African police on Friday dismantled an encampment of about 100 asylum seekers that had been set up for more than three years outside the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Pretoria, AFP reporters noted.

The migrants had set up makeshift tents in front of the UNHCR to ask to be relocated to other countries following an outbreak of xenophobic violence in 2019.

The Pretoria City Council had last week been given the green light by a court to relocate them.

Under the court ruling, the refugees should be taken to the Lindela Repatriation Centre, a temporary detention centre for undocumented migrants who are to be deported to their home countries.

Dozens of police officers, supported by immigration officials, dismantled the camp.

Using a megaphone, prosecutor Kobus Meijer warned the migrants that they would be "arrested" and "detained" if they resisted the operation.

Some families complied, others resisted.

"It's better for me if I die here" because "I'm not going to Lindela," shouted one refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Padoan told AFP that "they are asking to be taken to a refugee camp in another country but that is outside our mandate.

UNHCR has asked the South African authorities to conduct the dismantling operation "peacefully and in a way that the families are treated humanely, with dignity and respect," Padoan added.

South Africa has some of the most progressive asylum policies in the world, allowing foreigners to apply for refugee status and work.

But human rights groups say the application system is not working properly and is piling up delays, keeping many asylum seekers waiting for years.

South Africa, the continent's most industrialised economy, attracts economic migrants - a situation that has fuelled resentment among unemployed South Africans and sporadic outbreaks of xenophobic violence.

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