Asylum seekers ‘failed by state’

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Refugees queue at the Home Affairs Department office in Cape Town, above and right, where most of the asylum seekers have to wait for days before they receive temporary permits. Pictures: Neil Baynes


More than 700 first-time asylum applicants were not assisted at the Maitland Refugee Reception Centre since July 25, despite a Western Cape High Court ruling ordering the Department of Home Affairs to serve newcomers. This claim has been made by the refugee NGO People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop).

And Passop director Braam Hanekom says the acting director of the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office, Santos Mohapeloa, lied in an affidavit before the court when he said under oath that “no new asylum seekers presented themselves for processing at the service centre” since July 25, when the court order was made.

According to Hanekom, the department appears to have already made policy plans, which include the closure of the Cape Town refugee reception centre and several others.

“They claim people should apply for asylum at the borders, but they are failing to engage civil society fruitfully with practical implementation policies.

“For example, they should consider the large backlog of the undocumented asylum seekers and improve services at the centres where they want newly arrived asylum seekers to apply,” Hanekom said.

He accused the department of resorting to “bullying” and “unlawful stunts, like denying asylum seekers asylum”.

“The department appears to have maliciously and deliberately increased the lengths of queues. They have done this by reducing the duration of the ‘extensions’ of permits by as much as half – leading to people having to queue at the refugee reception centres twice as often, and thus doubling the pressure on the refugee reception centre,” said Hanekom, adding that the department was trying to create the impression that it lacked the capacity to serve newcomers.

The department has denied that the centre will be closed.

Lindile Kgasi, chief director for asylum seeker management at home affairs, did not say why the validity period of extended permits had been decreased.

“South Africa remains the highest destination country in the world for asylum seekers. The implication of this is that the unprecedented demand for service has put enormous pressure on all resources, resulting in queues at the refugee reception offices,” Kgasi said.

“It is clear that most of those applying for asylum are not genuine asylum seekers, but economic migrants who are utilising the asylum regime to regularise their stay in the country.”

He added that the department was in the process of ensuring that “adequate mechanisms” were introduced to address mixed migration flows into SA.

“These include the amendment of the Refugees Act 130 of 1998, which was signed into law on August 26, 2011. The amended act seeks to address the issue of efficiency and effectiveness in the adjudication process of asylum applications. As an immediate measure, the department has implemented a queue management system, which includes instituting specific nationality service days,” Kgasi explained.

The department was also aware of corruption in queues outside its various offices. “There are measures introduced to deal swiftly with any corrupt activities where they occur, and minimise risks or close gaps for any such occurrences in the future,” he said. – Sunday Independent

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Asylum seekers ‘failed by state’