Missed appointment not enough to refuse refugee asylum - court judgment

2018-11-19 22:49
(Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

(Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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A man whose father fled Burundi during political turmoil and genocide there in 1994, has been given a fresh start at applying for asylum in South Africa after he was embroiled in a dispute with authorities for about a decade over a missed appointment.

Although Western Cape High Court Judge Ashley Binns-Ward felt it was not up to him to decide whether Alexis Kalisa could stay in SA or not, he referred Kalisa's matter back to the Refugee Appeal Board so that his asylum application could be determined afresh.

Kalisa's travails began in 1994 when his parents fled Burundi for neighbouring Rwanda during a time of extreme turmoil in the region, following the death of the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda in a plane crash and severe conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. 

The judgment noted that Kalisa's father was being persecuted in Burundi because of his affiliation to a political grouping known as the "Union pour le Progres National" (the Union for National Progress).

Kalisa's family lived from "hand to mouth" in Rwanda and he joined or aligned himself with an opposition political movement there. 

In 2005, at the age of 18, he left Rwanda for South Africa and applied for asylum.

It was refused by the refugee status determination officer at the refugee reception centre in Port Elizabeth in 2007.

He lodged an appeal against the decision to the Refugee Appeal Board but skipped the appointment in 2008. As a result, his bid failed.

In the judgment, it emerged that Kalisa moved to Cape Town and in a wave of xenophobic violence in 2008, found himself living at a temporary site for foreign nationals set up at the Youngsfield Military Base in Cape Town.

While there, he was encouraged to regularise his presence in South Africa and on the insistence of the Department of Home Affairs, submitted a fresh application for asylum in 2008.

After the violence subsided and he could go back to work, he periodically had his asylum-seeker permit extended.

But in August 2017 he was told that because his previous appeal to the Refugee Appeal Board had been unsuccessful, he had to leave South Africa. 

He took the matter to court where the law clinic had argued that it would be inhumane to separate the family.

Binns-Ward found that authorities were supposed to consider the merits of the matter whether he was present or not, instead of turning him down because he failed to turn up for the hearing.

The court provided a strict timeline for Alexis Kalisa, the Department of Home Affairs, and lawyers from the University of Cape Town's Refugee Law Clinic, which represented him, to adhere to. 

The judge's orders include that the 2008 decision of the Refugee Appeal Board dated April 3, 2008 rejecting his application for asylum be set aside and that the matter be sent to the authorities for a fresh start. 

While this is being dealt with, the validity of Kalisa's permit must be extended, the court ordered.

In the meantime, Kalisa has made a life for himself in South Africa with two children and his partner, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Read more on:    cape town  |  immigrants
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