About 100 refugees and activists marched to Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday against the imminent closure of the Maitland refugee reception office.
The group marched peacefully down Keizergracht street at about 11.30am, chanting “we want papers” and “we are not criminals”, while beating drums and holding banners.
The marchers belonged to groups under the umbrella body Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in SA.
They oppose the home affairs department's closure of the Maitland centre and transfer of some refugee functions to Customs House, along the city centre foreshore.
Miranda Madikane, of rights organisation Scalabrini Centre, said the new office would no longer allow people to apply for asylum, meaning refugees would have to travel to Musina, Pretoria or Durban.
According to her, the department received a letter of notice from the landlord to vacate the premises.
She said the department also felt compelled to move the office because of a court order from May 2010, when a neighbouring business complained about the nuisance factor of having hundreds of people outside the office every day.
On Wednesday, which was World Refugees Day, the group handed over a memorandum of demands at Parliament.
One of the marchers, Congolese Pascaline Mafuala, 46, said she was concerned about how she would get her daughter a new study permit to write matric exams.
“I have been here since 1977 and have all the papers. Now the department says she needs a new one,” she said.
“I'm marching today because of my children,” she said while holding on to her seven-year-old son Freedom, who was carrying a sign saying “Love every child”.
The memorandum of demands stated that refugees did not have the means to travel to other offices, thus infringing on their right to effectively integrate in the host country.
According to the document, contradictory information had been presented by the department.
“There are no indications of how processing asylum claims at border areas will improve access to the system, ensure fair and efficient adjudication of individual cases, or include a regime for low-skilled migrant workers to legally enter and leave the country.”
The group demanded that closed centres across the country be re-opened and that the department halt plans for further closures.
It called for consultation with civil society.
Home affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa was not immediately available for comment. - Sapa