CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - South African police on Wednesday arrested about 100 foreign nationals occupying an office building in Cape Town as part of a sit-in protest against xenophobia.
Hundreds of asylum-seekers have been camping at U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria and Cape Town since Oct. 8. The sit-in overflowed into the building housing the U.N.'s Cape Town office, prompting the landlord to successfully apply for their eviction.
"About 100 people have been arrested after they failed to heed the call to disperse," the police said in a statement. "Police are ... executing a court order to evict about 300 refugees and asylum-seekers who have been occupying the building."
The foreigners, mainly from other African nations, say they are fed up with experiencing poor treatment and discrimination. They have asked the United Nations to relocate them to another country, claiming they no longer feel safe in South Africa after a surge of xenophobic attacks last month.
Clashes broke out with the police as protesters refused to move from the Waldorf Arcade, a 12-story block of offices in Cape Town's central business district. They banged on pots and plastic bottles, chanting "xenophobia government" and "police xenophobia."
"South Africa you [are] killing refugees," said a slogan painted on a white banner.
Police fired water guns and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
The situation became more subdued after the arrests. Waldorf Arcade was cordoned off and protesters started moving their belongings to a nearby church.
The U.N. called on the protesters to "respect the laws" and "return peacefully to their residences."
"UNHCR has been engaging with the refugees and asylum-seekers since the onset of the protests," the agency said in a statement, adding that resettlement was "only available for a limited number of very vulnerable refugees."
Instead, the agency encouraged asylum-seekers to "participate in constructive dialogue" and find "peaceful resolution."
South Africa is home to 268,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, according to government statistics. They are mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The country boasts some of the world's most progressive asylum policies, allowing foreigners to apply for refugee status within the country itself and to work during the process.
But the U.N. has voiced concern about the more than 50,000 pending asylum claims, the largest number in sub-Saharan Africa.
Rights groups say the number of people granted refugee status has remained unchanged for the past decade, suggesting an intentional culling of foreign national acceptance.
As the continent's most industrialized economy, South Africa is also a magnet for migrants seeking better jobs.
Seen as competing with locals for work, foreigners are often the first to come under fire when South Africa's chronic unemployment and inequality boils into resentment.
Xenophobic violence left at least 62 dead in 2008. Seven people were killed in 2015, and 12 died in the latest spate of attacks this year, most of them South African. The incidents occurred mainly in the Johannesburg area.