SOUTH AFRICA: Hundreds of of refugees and asylum seekers evicted during a clash with police in central Cape Town on Wednesday have taken refuge at the Central Methodist Church in the city.

The church was packed in the early evening as men, women and children flooded in after being ousted from the Waldorf Arcade in St George’s Mall, outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), where they had staged a sit-in since October 9.

The group, from all across Africa, have been demanding that the South African government and the UNHCR help them leave the country in the face of recent xenophobic attacks.

Congolese national Patient Kazadi said xenophobia had left him with no choice but to flee the country. “We’ve been here [outside the UNHCR] because of xenophobia in South Africa. We came to the UN to ask for our own rights. The government must send us to any other countries. They must take us out of South Africa,” he said.

“Today they sent police and law enforcement to get us out of here. There’s one woman lying down here, they didn’t even call an ambulance.”

Some protesters, including François Ngeragez, who has lived in South Africa for nine years, were affected by teargas. “I can’t see any more.  You see my eyes?  They sprayed my eyes. Why do they do this? They’re killing us like cockroaches!

“They can release us to other countries. Africa is big – there’s Namibia, there’s Malawi, there’s Zambia, there’s a lot of countries.”

“I’m a black man like them,” said refugee Francois Ngeragez. “Why would they do that?”

Victor, a street vendor who fled Cameroon in search of a better life – who was not camping illegally in the arcade – was caught in the midst of the standoff and quickly closed his stall.

Over the course of the last three weeks, he communicated in French with many of the protesters. “Their problem is my problem,” he said, saying that he might not have left Cameroon if he had known of the violence that would unfold in South Africa.

“I’m better living in poverty and with peace of mind than in fear,” he added.