Home Affairs office routinely loses asylum documents

2016-11-29 10:21
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba

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Pretoria – Peter, 33, wakes up at 03:00 to catch the train to the Marabastad refugee centre in Pretoria to renew his permit which will have expired by the end of the day. He lives in Tsakane, 80km away.

At the Brakpan train station he catches the 04:00 train. He arrives at the Bosman station in Pretoria an hour later and walks to the centre, meeting fellow refugees along the way.

By 06:00, Peter is standing outside the centre. He is one of the first 50 people to arrive. On this day only Zimbabwean and Congolese nationals are being served. Other days are set apart for people from other countries. Peter is Congolese.

Peter waits for the "bin" in which he can place his expiring document so it can be renewed. The bin is a large box which officers at Marabastad introduced earlier in 2016. Its purpose is to ease the pressure of having to deal with thousands of refugees on a personal level. Peter and other refugees wait patiently.

Just before 08:00, the bin is brought out. The refugees take turns placing their asylum papers in it. The first renewed papers are called out at 11:00.

The officer stands behind a wall on a high pillar, facing the crowds outside. Congolese on the left and Zimbabweans on the right. When the officer calls out a name, a hand is raised and the permit is passed on to the owner.

But Peter's name is not called out. His document is missing and so are the papers of about 30 other people.

They stare at the wall hoping that the officer will appear with their papers. It is already 16:00, closing time. What could have happened to their papers, they ask each other in confusion.

"I am very disappointed by this situation. How can the officers not know what happened to my permit when I put it inside the box? Everyone saw me. It's not easy to travel early in the morning all the way from Tsakane all for nothing," says Peter.

"I borrowed money from my friend to come here. Coming back again is out of the question. And how can I work without my asylum?"

Cannot find my permit

Many other refugees have suffered the same fate on different dates. A nearby food vendor estimates the number at 200.

The officials who call out the names claim that the submitted papers were not in the home affairs building. The officers suggest that asylum seekers whose permits were not called get an affidavit signed at a police station.

On this affidavit they need to explain what happened and include their file numbers, to enable their permits to be reprocessed.

Some refugees report that their files were apparently moved to other branches due to a backlog at this centre. They managed to get their papers back on subsequent dates.

But not everyone gets their papers back, at least not quickly.

"I have been coming for two weeks now and nothing. They cannot find my permit inside," says one woman.

She travelled from Elandsfontein, with her child on her back.

"Travelling with a child early in the morning and spending the whole day standing is not easy.

"Yesterday an officer wrote our names down, saying they will check for us. But today again they haven't found anything. I really wonder what is going on here. Police arrest us if we do not produce our asylum permits. What if they decide to arrest me when I go and make an affidavit? I can't risk it," she says.

Machines offline

A security guard at the centre says it is "hectic" inside. He says the increasing number of asylum seekers are making the workload "a bit too much", resulting in the loss of documents.

"Worse still, the machines for printing asylum papers are always offline. Honestly you can't blame them," he says.

"Maybe it would be better if they decentralised the duties of the refugee centre to other home affairs centres around the country. It should ease the pressure here at Marabastad," he says.

There is additional pressure on Marabastad because of the closure of home affairs facilities to process asylum seekers in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

There are also rumours that fraudsters steal asylum papers from the box, so they can sell them back to the owners.

GroundUp sent questions to Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, but received no response.

Read more on:    home affairs  |  malusi gigaba  |  pretoria  |  asylum

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