Most assylum seekers in SA

2012-04-27 00:00

CAPE TOWN — South Africa has the highest number of asylum seekers in the world.

Deputy Home Affairs Minister Fatima Chohan said in parliament on Wednesday that a total of 180 000 people applied for asylum in 2010.

She ascribed the state of affairs to the fact that South Africa is facing serious challenges with regard to the evaluation of applicants claiming a right to asylum and assisting those to whom refugee status is eventually granted.

“A combination of circumstances has led to widespread abuse of the asylum system, with a high number of economic immigrants using the Immigration Act to circumvent the asylum process.”

Chohan said this unprecedented demand for asylum has overwhelmed the system and opened it up to further abuse.

The process for evaluating applications has consequently taken years to finalise, which has led to backlogs.

Chohan participated in the debate following Home Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s budget debate speech in parliament on Wednesday.

She said the fact that asylum seekers were not accommodated in camps in South Africa left the door open for many opportunities to abuse the system.

“But we are looking at all kinds of ways, including further amendments to the Refugees Act, to ensure that the policy [not to accommodate asylum seekers in camps] is not abused,” she said.

A strategy based on three principles had been implemented to start improving the management of asylum seekers.

The first was to improve the process by which asylum applications were evaluated.

The turnaround time of applications and the quality of applications have improved since September last year at the refugee reception centres in Durban, Musina and Cape Town, according to Chohan.

Decisions about status are now taken within three months.

The focus will now move to the offices in Pretoria, where the same level of service has not yet been achieved.

“A further challenge is to ensure that individuals whose applications for asylum have been turned down are deported timeously.

“Measures to give attention to this challenge are being investigated,” Chohan said.

Discussions have been held with the International Organisation for Migration about its possible assistance with voluntary repatriation from the country’s refugee reception centres.

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