Foreigners arrested for loitering near Johannesburg church

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    "The Johannesburg central crime prevention made the arrests during a normal crime prevention operation," police inspector Gordon Billing told reporters on Thursday, adding that the people, who included mothers with young children, were asked to pay a R300 fine or appear in court on Thursday.

    The arrests raised the ire of human rights organisations who condemned the police action, saying it was aimed at "victimising and intimidating vulnerable people . . . and threatens to drive them away".

    "One of our patients was arrested while queuing outside the clinic waiting to be treated. When we traced him to the Johannesburg Central Police Station to follow up on his condition, we found two more patients in police custody,"?? said Andreas Alga of the Doctors Without Borders clinic at the church.

    Last July police arrested over 300 people near the church, causing an outcry from human rights organisations who described those arrests as "heavy handed" and said they were conducted as "part of a campaign to drive homeless people out of the city centre".

    The Johannesburg church offers refuge to more than 3 000 immigrants from across Africa with the bulk of them Zimbabweans who continue to flock to the sanctuary, fleeing their home country because of hunger and economic hardships.

    The church reportedly receives up to 200 new arrivals from Zimbabwe per week with the formation of a unity government between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai last February appearing to have done little to stem the tide of Zimbabweans crossing the border to seek food and better opportunities in their more prosperous southern neighbour.

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