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Over 150 000 asylum seekers in SA to finally have cases heard

File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 16, 2021

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Cape Town – More than 153 000 asylum seekers in South Africa who have been waiting for years for a decision on their applications for refugee status will have their cases heard following an agreement between the ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​UN Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Department of Home Affairs to eliminate delays and clear backlogs.

This as the UNHCR says refugees in Cape Town have approached them for support in rejoining the community, while others have expressed an interest in returning to their home countries.

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The R142 million agreement sets in motion a project to eliminate delays and the backlog in asylum decisions in a bid to revamp the refugee management system by 2024.

UNHCR spokesperson Kate Pond said of the 266 694 refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa, two-thirds of them did not have access to the full rights and privileges of refugee status.

“Under the Asylum Decisions Backlog Elimination Project, 153 391 cases will be processed over the next four years. Once their claims are processed, those who will be recognised as refugees will be free not only to access national services on a par with citizens, but also to become valuable contributors to South African society and the development of the country,” she said.

The UNHCR’s representative in South Africa, Leonard Zulu said they welcomed the government’s determination to revamp the asylum system.

“Changes to policy and strengthening administrative procedures are vital for a fair and effective asylum system and for the public to have trust in the architecture of refugee management, and the institution of asylum,” he said.

The secretary-general of the SA Refugee-Led Network, Martin Mande, said the Covid-19 pandemic had left many people, including refugees in South Africa, destitute, displaced, and vulnerable.

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“It is indeed distressing to know that asylum seekers have been waiting for their final decisions for more than 10 to 20 years,” Mande said.

In his speech at the signing of the agreement last week, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said the department was “firmly on the path of modernising our immigration laws, focusing on strengthening the system and improving our processes”.

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