Scores of people queue at the refugee reception office in Cape Town. Yesterday marked World Refugee Day, honouring the spirit and courage of millions of refugees worldwide who have had to flee their homes. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
For Azama Damas, a matric drop-out, the march to Parliament yesterday was about highlighting the plight faced by fellow matric pupils who were refugees in South Africa.

The march coincided with World Refugee Day which is observed on June 20 each year to honour the spirit and courage of millions of refugees worldwide who have had to flee their homes and countries due to violence, war and other conflicts.

The 19-year-old Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) national was supposed to be doing her matric at Focus College in Wynberg.

She had hoped to be admitted to Stellenbosch University next year. Instead she is heartbroken at home as she doesn’t have documents.

Damas came to South Africa at a young age with her late father who had a permanent residency. Her father died four years ago. Her mother is in DRC but cannot afford to travel to South Africa.

“I also cannot afford to go back home and besides I don’t want to go back, things are horrible there. That’s why my father came here the first place. My father passed away in 2014 waiting for Home Affairs to put me on the system.”

The Voice of Africans for Change was at the forefront of the march which saw people from about six countries.

They protested for their human rights and called for the Department of Home Affairs to “stop defeating the ruling of the Supreme Court of Appeal” and reopen the refugee reception office in Cape Town.

The Supreme Court of Appeal last year ordered the department to reopen the reception refugee office in Cape Town by March 31 of this year.

The office was yet to open, the group said.

Nijimbere Luqman, 32, from Burundi, said he was forced to leave his home due to war, persecution and violence.

“I have been here since 2016 I cannot work and my son cannot go to school because we don’t have papers. I have been surviving through the help of other people. We are not treated like humans here. We are suffering. My wife was left behind and was supposed to follow but to date I have not got hold of her. I think she might have been killed in the ongoing political war.”

Making a speech at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said that over the years South Africa had become one of the largest host countries for refugees worldwide, with more than 126000 refugees recorded since 2009, and many more asylum seekers.

“As we stand #WithRefugees, we must reflect on the enormous disruption and difficulty faced by refugees and displaced persons, and highlight the need to assist them by providing a safe place, and welcoming them into our communities, our schools, and our workplaces.

“South Africa remains committed to protecting refugees and strengthening our institutional arrangements in this regard.

“Accordingly, we are in the process of updating our policies and regulations with regard to international migration and refugees.

‘‘We intend further to strengthen our capacity to speedily process asylum claims through various interventions which are complemented by our new international migration policy which seeks to address the challenges occasioned by the large number of economic migrants who abuse the asylum seeker process to regularise their stay in South Africa,” Gigaba said.

He said in recent years, “spurious asylum” applications by economic migrants overwhelmed the system, resulting in inordinately long wait times for decisions for applicants.

“This made it extremely difficult to identify and respond to the needs of genuine refugees.

“Our new international migration policy presents a new approach to better manage irregular and economic migration, through regularisation of existing migrants already residing in South Africa, and creating new visa options for citizens of neighbouring countries to reside in South Africa legally.”