Sys­tem back­logs and slow pro­cesses frus­trate refugees

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - NI­COLA DANIELS

REFUGEES con­tinue to face sys­tem­atic chal­lenges in South Africa, with over 200000 asy­lum seeker (peo­ple who have fled their coun­try and are seek­ing international pro­tec­tion as refugees) ap­pli­ca­tions still pend­ing.

Scal­abrini Cen­tre of Cape Town’s Corey John­son said: “A ma­jor prob­lem is keep­ing their doc­u­men­ta­tion valid, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the clo­sure of the Cape Town, Jo­han­nes­burg and Port El­iz­a­beth Refugee Re­cep­tion Of­fices.

“This means asy­lum seek­ers re­sid­ing in Cape Town have to re­port back to the of­fice they ap­plied at for any per­mit re­newal or in­ter­views.”

John­son said this was dif­fi­cult some­times for per­sonal rea­sons such as fi­nan­cial is­sues, fam­ily and health, as well cor­rup­tion and ir­reg­u­lar ad­min­is­tra­tive prac­tices present at Refugee Re­cep­tion Of­fices.

Con­sor­tium for Refugees and Mi­grants in South Africa’s Roshan Dadoo sec­onded what John­son said.

She added: “The pro­posed Refugee Amend­ment Bill, lim­its the rights of asy­lum seek­ers. It pro­poses bor­der pro­cess­ing cen­tres, which means peo­ple will have to re­main in de­ten­tion at the bor­der un­til their sta­tus is re­viewed.

“They say they will process ap­pli­ca­tions in three days, but with a 10-year back­log I am not sure how they are go­ing to do that.”

Home Af­fairs spokesper­son David Hla­bane said: “All these ap­pli­cants have been ad­ju­di­cated and fi­nalised at first in­stance by the depart­ment and de­ci­sions is­sued to them. They have since taken the de­ci­sions to ap­peal or re­view pro­cesses.”

Dadoo said refugees were frus­trated at be­ing left in “limbo” with much un­cer­tainty.

She said with the back­log of ap­pli­ca­tions, many peo­ple were un­doc­u­mented and be­ing pun­ished for it.

“The depart­ment needs to con­cen­trate on im­prov­ing its cur­rent sys­tems.

“A proper de­ter­mi­na­tion process needs to be put in place. You can’t de­cide to re­ject 90% of ap­pli­cants,” said Dadoo.

Dadoo rec­om­mended em­ploy­ing more staff at Home Af­fairs of­fices.

She said: “It would cre­ate so many jobs, in­stead of spend­ing mil­lions on new in­fra­struc­ture to keep peo­ple out.

“Who is go­ing to look af­ter them while at these bor­der cen­tres. They have rights ac­cord­ing to leg­is­la­tion.”

John­son said sys­temic chal­lenges in the refugee sta­tus de­ter­mi­na­tion process re­sulted in only 4% of ap­pli­cants be­ing for­mally recog­nised as refugees dur­ing their first in­ter­view.

“This means many le­git­i­mate refugees – such as in­di­vid­u­als flee­ing per­se­cu­tion and con­flict from So­ma­lia, Bu­rundi and the DRC – then have to rely on the ap­peal process which is a pro­tracted process and of­ten takes years to fi­nalise,” he said.

Lead by The Voice of Africa for Change, over 60 for­eign na­tion­als came to­gether yes­ter­day, march­ing to Par­lia­ment for the recog­ni­tion of their rights.

Multi-na­tional flags in hand, singing and shout­ing “We are fight­ing for our rights.”

“We are thank­ful to the gov­ern­ment for host­ing us. But we ask that our rights as refugees be re­spected,” said the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Ger­main Kalombo.

Yes­ter­day marked World Refugee Day, which high­lighted the plight of 65.5 mil­lion peo­ple who have been dis­placed, glob­ally.

Hla­bane said of the above 218 300 cases, the stand­ing com­mit­tee on refugee af­fairs has pri­ori­tised re­view cases brought to them.

“Their work­load is around 40%. The re­main­der of the case load is await­ing fi­nal­i­sa­tion of their ap­peals by the Refugee Ap­peal Board. The main chal­lenge with the ap­peal is that they are re­quired by law to con­sider mat­ters at a quo­rum.”

He said the depart­ment has since ap­proached Par­lia­ment seek­ing amend­ment of this re­quire­ment.

Hla­bane added: “Once that amend­ment comes into force these cases will be con­cluded quicker.

“It is en­vis­aged that the amend­ments will come into force early next year if they pass le­gal muster.”

The gov­ern­ment should im­prove cur­rent sys­tems Who’s go­ing to look af­ter them at cen­tres

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