Court orders refugee centre to reopen

2012-02-16 14:50

The closing down of a Port Elizabeth refugee centre by the home affairs department was unlawful, the city’s high court has ruled.

The refugee asylum centre was also ordered to be re-opened by Judge Jeremy Pickering, following an action brought by the Somalia Association of SA (Sasa) and the Project for Conflict Resolution (PCRD).

The department closed the facility down because it was, among other things, a nuisance to local businesses and residents.

Home affairs and the chief director of asylum seeker management were the first and third respondents in the matter. The centre, which was established in 2000, shut its doors at the end of last year.

Pickering said proper consultation had not taken place and a suitable alternative office within the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality had not been provided, as undertaken by government.

“The first and third respondents are directed forthwith to open and maintain a fully functional refugee reception office to provide services to asylum seekers and refugees, including new applicants for asylum,” Pickering wrote in his judgment. He ruled that the respondents must pay costs.

The department contended the centre had been closed down as it was not one of South Africa’s entry points for refugees predominately from North Africa. It was also difficult, if not impossible, to find an alternative venue.

However the Sasa and PCRD argued the decision was irrational, unreasonable and based on irrelevant considerations.

Pickering said it was common cause that the Port Elizabeth office served a large number of people. Between May 2010 and March 2011, 22 000 people were helped.

An earlier court ruled in favour of the department, based on the point that the large number of people gave rise to complaints from businesses and residents living in the area.

Director of the Refugee Rights Centre, Linton Harmse said the judgment showed the department could not act outside the law.

“The constitutional right to just administrative action applies equally to all, including foreign nationals,” he said in a statement.

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