CMM Update on the Refugee Situation

The latest sermon:

November, 10 2019 Alan Storey: The foreigner is not foreign; and the danger of becoming what we hate. [Leviticus 19:33-34; Luke 9:51-56; Luke 10:25-37]

The last few days have included many discussions regarding the refugees staying in and around CMM. These dialogues have been hosted and facilitated by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). They have included the leaders of the refugees at the church as well as a large number of other stakeholders including: UNHCR, Government: Department of Home Affairs, Premier’s Office, Department for Social Development, Department of Health, Police, and many civil society organisations intimately involved with refugee concerns. I am not personally involved in these discussions.

We must remember that though the problem of the present situation demands an urgent solution – it is itself a symptom of much larger and equally urgent problems. It is these systemic problems that must be urgently addressed for there to be a lasting solution for all refugees in South Africa and not only the people in and around CMM. So, it is a balancing act of dealing with both the immediate and the long-term issues.

I trust the people involved in the facilitation of these discussions and hope that a way forward will soon become clear.

My first hope is that the way forward will secure protection and justice for refugees across this country. In the very least, the treatment refugees receive from Home Affairs must improve drastically to become just and compassionate. Let every official at Home Affairs remember: “When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the foreigner. The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself…” Leviticus 19: 33-34.

My second hope is that the way forward includes the vacating of CMM. There are a number of reasons for this, but please note it is not “so the church can get back to normal” as some people suggest. As church we exist to care for the vulnerable and persecuted. Caring is our normal. This does not mean we are setting up a shelter – we are not – everyone is aware that this is a temporary situation. A temporary situation that resulted from the violent dispersing of protesting refugees by the police.

The most important reason why the way forward must help people to vacate CMM is safety.

The risk of a fire in the sanctuary remains. Plainly put: if there is a fire, people will die. There are simply not enough exits for the amount of people inside the church to vacate fast enough. This is especially since so many of those inside the sanctuary are young children and babies. Furthermore, the pews act like crowd barricades making quick movement impossible. It is a dangerous situation, and people don’t think it will happen until it does! The City Fire Department did an inspection on the 12th November. No doubt we will hear from them soon – but one doesn’t need to work for the Fire Department to know what their instruction will be.

I also share the concern of the many traders in the area who are experiencing a loss in business, especially the traders on Greenmarket Square itself. This is another reason why a speedy solution be found. These are people who themselves can least afford any loss of trade.

Finally, thank you for your continued care and concern regarding those sheltering in and around CMM. Forgive us for not being able to give a neat list in response to your question: “what can I do to help?” Things are more complicated and nuanced than a list is able to capture. For example: There is a fine line between providing caring hospitality on the one hand and running the risk of setting up a “permanent shelter” on the other hand. Likewise, we need to respond to health care needs, yet at the same time avoid setting up a “clinic”. To this end, regarding health care – St John’s have been providing care at the Church while also enabling people to have easy access to a local government clinic. This access is made possible by the direct intervention of the District Six Community Day Care Centre and the Province’s Head of Community Health for which we are very grateful. In this way we don’t duplicate services already made available by the State. But as I have said, it is a fine line to walk.

Alan Storey
13 November 2019



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