The Department of Home Affairs has been ordered to reopen the Refugee Reception Office (RRO) at its premises in Cape Town, which was closed in 2012. FIle picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
The Department of Home Affairs has been ordered to reopen the Refugee Reception Office (RRO) at its premises in Cape Town, which was closed in 2012. FIle picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Reopening of Cape Town refugee office to be managed under judge’s watchful eye

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published May 13, 2021

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Cape Town - A judge will oversee the process of reopening of the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office, according to a draft order agreed between lawyers for both sides, in a case brought by refugee organisations against the Department of Home Affairs.

The lawyers have tentatively agreed to have the process subjected to a case management process, overseen by Acting Western Cape High Court Judge Alma De Wet, who made the suggestion after hearing the department’s argument against the appointment of a special master to oversee the reopening of the refugee office.

In their heads of argument, the department acknowledged that the refugee office has not been reopened, but argued that they have concluded a lease agreement for suitable premises.

They said some of the steps that still need to be taken – to open a fully functional refugee office – include getting an operational budget, the appointment of personnel, and the acquisition of IT equipment.

In Judge De Wet’s proposed court-managed process, both sides will make a monthly report to her on progress made towards the reopening of the refugee office.

After asking the lawyers to come up with a workable process, the judge adjourned the case for more than an hour, following which the lawyers presented her with a draft order on how the case management should proceed.

Having perused the draft, the judge felt the parties needed more time to hammer out the finer details and it was agreed that the court would reconvene on Friday this week.

“I do think you need a little more time because one must actually look at the details as to what we are going to discuss at the monthly briefings and where we are going, otherwise we’ll have meaningless meetings,” said Judge De Wet.

The Scalabrini Centre and the Somali Association of South Africa, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, had gone to court – accusing the department of a failure to comply with court orders to reopen the office.

Meanwhile, Sonke Gender Justice, who were granted permission to appear as friends of the court in the case, were represented by Lawyers for Human Rights.

The refugee office was closed in 2012, meaning that refugees could only apply for asylum in Pretoria, Durban, or Musina – a state of affairs which the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Western Cape High Court agreement that this situation unfairly penalised refugees in Cape Town.

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