JOHANNESBURG -- Shield-carrying South African police on Friday removed about 150 refugees who the United Nations refugee agency said forced their way into its compound while protesting recent anti-immigrant attacks.
The police action in the capital, Pretoria, followed one last month in which police arrested and dispersed hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers, including children, who had camped for weeks outside the U.N. agency's office in Cape Town.
A U.N. statement said they want protection and relocation to a safer country. Many are from Congo, Uganda and Kenya.
The demonstrators in Pretoria had been protesting outside the U.N. office for about a week. A court on Wednesday ordered the protesters to vacate the area and told police to determine who is legally authorized to stay in South Africa.
The country, sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed economy, has seen waves of deadly xenophobic attacks over the years. The government, which faced criticism for framing the latest attacks as crime instead of xenophobia at first, has since sought to mend ties with other African nations.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has said “early warning mechanisms” will be put in place to help avoid such attacks in the future.
Many people who arrive in South Africa seeking refuge allege that the government doesn’t make it easy. Lack of documentation can keep children from school, adults from employment and people of all ages from receiving some public health care, according to an Amnesty International report released this month.
The report found about 96% of asylum applications were rejected and a “massive backlog” exists of some 190,000 appeals and case reviews. Some asylum seekers have been in limbo for close to two decades.
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