Refugee of­fi­cials have to process 60 000 cases a year

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - FA­TIMA SCHROEDER

THERE are only five Home Affairs of­fi­cials on South Africa’s Refugee Ap­peal Board. And it’s their job to process an av­er­age 60 000 cases a year, Depart­ment of Home Affairs fig­ures show.

This equates to more than 160 re­views a day.

Ex­ac­er­bat­ing the sit­u­a­tion, which has re­sulted in an enor­mous back­log run­ning to many years in some cases, is that for things to im­prove, the ap­pli­ca­ble leg­is­la­tion must be amended. That’s ac­cord­ing to depart­ment spokesman May­ihlome Tsh­wete, speak­ing af­ter Week­end Ar­gus’s story last Satur­day about a Syr­ian fam­ily who were re­fused asy­lum.

This came af­ter an of­fi­cial de­cided Da­m­as­cus, where they lived in Syria, is safe and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid was there­fore not war­ranted.

The Ba­nian fam­ily took their case to the Refugee Ap­peal Board, and they have been given asy­lum- seeker per- mits while they wait for a date for the ap­peal.

How­ever, father Omar Ba­nian is not im­pressed be­cause he said his fam­ily feels im­pris­oned in a for­eign coun­try with­out doc­u­ments that recog­nise them as refugees.

They were also shocked at the find­ing by the refugee sta­tus de­ter­mi­na­tion of­fi­cer that Da­m­as­cus is safe, say­ing there was noth­ing left of their home af­ter it was bombed.

Ba­nian feared death con­stantly as he had to pass through six se­cu­rity check­points daily on his way to work, which were manned by young, trig­ger-happy mil­i­tary of­fi­cials. But Tsh­wete was adamant this week their asy­lum-seeker per­mit gave them full recog­ni­tion and pro­tec­tion in South Africa. He would not com­ment on the mer­its of the ap­pli­ca­tion.

The only dis­ad­van­tage, he said, was they had to travel to the Refugee Re­cep­tion Cen­tre in Pre­to­ria, where they lodged their ap­pli­ca­tion, to have their per­mits ex­tended.

Tsh­wete said there was noth­ing stop­ping the fam­ily from ap­ply­ing to have their files trans­ferred to Cape Town on the ba­sis of ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances, if such cir­cum­stances ex­isted.

On the ap­peal process, he said it could take up to a year for an ap­peal to be heard, which means the Ba­ni­ans prob­a­bly have at least one more trip to make to Pre­to­ria.

Im­mi­gra­tion lawyer June Luna de­scribed this time­frame as “very op­ti­mistic”.

In her ex­pe­ri­ence, she said, ap­peals could take years to be fi­nalised. “We’ve never had one come back in a year.” The ap­peal could also be re­fused, which meant an ex­pen­sive court re­view would be nec­es­sary. Luna agreed the depart­ment was “swamped” and had ca­pac­ity is­sues.

But on the Ba­nian case, she said it was very clear Syria was in the midst of a civil war and was a dan­ger­ous place in which to live.

The refugee de­ter­mi­na­tion of­fi­cer in their case had clearly erred, some­thing which was not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing they were all over­worked and some lacked train­ing.

The ap­peal board was cre­ated in the early 1990s in terms of the Refugees Act. At that time, Tsh­wete said, only about 100 to 300 peo­ple sought asy­lum here an­nu­ally.

Al­though those num­bers had spi­ralled, the depart­ment’s ca­pac­ity to deal with ap­pli­ca­tions was al­most un­changed.

In 2013, 70 000 asy­lum seek­ers en­tered South Africa and 71 000 next year. Last year there were 62 000 new asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions.

“It’s a highly bur­dened sys­tem,” Tsh­wete said, ex­plain­ing that most cases were eco­nomic mi­grants rather than peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum.

Sta­tis­tics show less than 5 per­cent of new­comer ap­pli­ca­tions for asy­lum are suc­cess­ful and the ma­jor­ity of those which are re­fused go on ap­peal.

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