South African authorities say they have begun deporting 20 refugees and asylum seekers who were part of a months-long sit-in protest against xenophobia.
They are mostly from African countries and were demanding to be resettled outside South Africa while Canada was some of the migrants’ preferred choice, said South Africa’s Home Affairs department in a statement.
Their sit-in began outside the offices of the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) in Cape Town in October 2019. Hundreds of people took part in the protest campaign which lasted five months and saw the migrants occupy a church where they were given refuge.
At the time the migrants said they did not feel safe because of xenophobic attacks in South Africa’s townships, and that they were treated poorly and discriminated against.
Since 2008, there have been numerous outbreaks of xenophobic violence targeting foreign nationals from the rest of the continent in townships across the country.
Migrants are often targeted in the communities where they live, accused of stealing jobs and resources. A Burundian woman who the BBC spoke to earlier this year said she fled unrest in her home country years earlier for South Africa, a place where she thought she was safe but was attacked and raped by a man who remained at large.
Despite requests made, South African authorities have not disclosed the names nor the destination countries of the 20 people being deported.
In a statement, the Department of Home Affairs said it had followed “due process”, adding that “the affected foreign nationals have already been transferred to Lindela Repatriation Centre for deportation purposes”. Johannesburg says more migrants are expected to be deported.