IS the plan to close the Maitland refugee reception office an attempt to discourage asylum seekers and other immigrants from coming to Cape Town? If it is, it won’t work.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, the office is closing because the lease in Maitland – where in any case some local businesses have long been hostile to the presence of the office – has come to an end. But that does not explain why the same service cannot be provided somewhere else.
Asylum seekers who have already lodged applications will be dealt with at temporary premises at Customs House on the Foreshore, but there will no longer be a place in Cape Town to lodge new applications. Newcomers will have to apply in Musina, Pretoria or Durban.
No reason has been given for this decision, but some see it as part of a wider and very sinister plan.
The Scalabrini Centre has pointed out, for instance, that similar offices in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth have been closed, and that in spite of a court order that Home Affairs must maintain an office for new asylum seekers in Port Elizabeth, no new office has been opened there.
People who seek asylum in another country do so under enormous pressure – political, religious or economic. Many of those who flee lose their lives in the attempt.
This week, more than 40 Ethiopian and Somali migrants suffocated to death in a container truck crossing Tanzania; last week 47 died when their boat capsized in Malawi; and every year thousands of North Africans die crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life in Europe.
People who take this sort of a risk are not going to be discouraged by the closure of a refugee office, any more than Adonis Musati was discouraged; the 21 year old Zimbabwean spent a month queuing at the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office in a vain attempt to get valid documents, finally starving to death.
According to the United Nations, South Africa has the highest number of refugees in the world. Making it harder for refugees to apply for asylum will not change this. All it will do is put another burden onto the shoulders of those whose load is already far too much to bear.