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Department of Home Affairs office. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
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In July 2012 the
Department of Home Affairs (DHA) closed its Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in
Cape Town. Despite two court orders to do so and devastating consequences for asylum seekers, it has failed to reopen the office.
most recent court order of September 2017 mandated the DHA to reopen the RRO by
March 31, 2018. Despite being in contempt of court, there is no indication from
the DHA that they are working urgently to do this.
Africa currently follows global best practice by allowing asylum seekers
awaiting refugee status freedom of movement and the right to work. The more
expensive and less humane alternative would be housing asylum seekers at camps.
asylum seekers must register at one of three RROs located in Durban, Musina and
Pretoria. Asylum seekers are granted temporary permits, which must be frequently
renewed (every three to six months). With the RRO in Cape Town closed, asylum
seekers living in the Mother City must travel every few months to Durban, Musina
or Pretoria (1 455km, 1 633km and 1 923km away from Cape Town, respectively).
DHA is meant to process an asylum seeker's claim for refugee status within six
months, but due to lack of resources and endemic corruption at the DHA,
however, the process more often takes up to five years or more. This situation
puts an enormous financial and emotional burden on asylum seekers, who cannot
return to their homelands for fear of persecution or death.
certain types of asylum seekers, such as unaccompanied minors, the disabled or
the elderly, the journey is almost impossible. Many asylum seekers are forced
to let their permits expire, which makes life here in South Africa even more
difficult and dangerous for them. Without proper documentation, asylum seekers
cannot open bank accounts, access health care at hospitals or register their
children for schools. There are currently thousands of asylum seekers living in
South Africa with expired permits.
situation has also placed an enormous burden on the DHA. The DHA's decision to
close two of its urban RROs (in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth) has crippled its
ability to process asylum seekers' claims in a timely manner.
to its 2016 Asylum Report for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR), the DHA still needs to process 697 298 section 22 cases. There is also
currently an astounding backlog of asylum seekers appealing the DHA's decision
to reject their refugee status claims – by the DHA's most recent assessment,
there are 133 000 outstanding appeals.
If you count expired permits, the number
is even higher. The remaining RROs are so overbooked that they are not taking enough
new clients. The DHA only processed 35 000 claims for refugee status in 2016,
about half of what it was able to accomplish in 2015. The DHA was also court
ordered to reopen its RRO in Port Elizabeth in 2015, and it has yet to do so.
arrangement is obviously unsustainable, and the South African courts agree. In
2013, the High Court ruled in favour of the Legal Resources Centre and the
Scalabrini Centre for Cape Town, who took the DHA to court over the closing of
the RRO in Cape Town. The High Court ruled the DHA's decision procedurally
unlawful because it had failed to consult civil society on the matter, even
though it had stated that it would.
DHA subsequently consulted with civil society organisations, who warned the DHA
about the dangers – both to the DHA and to asylum seekers in South Africa – of
closing urban RROs. When the DHA refused to reopen the RRO, the Legal Resources
Center, the Scalabrini Centre for Cape Town and the Somali Association of South
Africa appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal, where it won on substantive
we pass the deadline for the DHA to reopen the RRO in Cape Town, it is
important to remind the DHA and the South African public of the importance of
legal accountability. South Africa's departments are in the process of
rebuilding after years of state capture. The DHA is one of the country's lowest
performing departments. Reopening the RRO in Cape Town presents an opportunity
for the DHA to begin meaningful transformation.
one stands more to lose from the DHA's contempt than the asylum seekers
themselves. These are brave but vulnerable people who deserve recognition and
support from government officials but more often deal with discrimination and
society, in conjunction with Chapter Nine institutions and the courts, must do
everything in their power to ensure that the DHA complies with its ruling to
reopen the RRO in Cape Town.
Follow the advocacy campaign of ALPS
Resilience and other organizations on Twitter using #OpenRRO.
- Leigh Hamilton is a program officer for ALPS Resilience, a non-profit organisation that focuses on issues of forced migration and violence prevention in Africa.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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