Naledi Pandor

Cape Town - Home Affairs’ draft immigration regulations could be damaging to asylum seekers while failing to stem the tide of immigrants flocking to South Africa, say refugee rights groups.

The regulations, which closed to public comment on Friday, are expected to come into force soon – and, according to Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, will “usher in a new era of secure, efficient and sound management of international migration”.

Only, the altered requirements are at odds with the practicalities asylum seekers face, say some.

One regulation change wants migrants to provide an address they will be staying at.

“This is all fair and well for those that may be visiting relatives within the Republic, but this assumes that they are literate enough to know and keep the address on them,” said the Agency for Refugee Education, Skills Training and Advocacy (Aresta) in its submission.

“There is no room left for those that are coming to the Republic for the first time, with no relative or friends in the Republic. This is extremely problematic for asylum seekers who are fleeing their countries…”

Even if an asylum seeker were allowed into the country, another regulation would make asylum transit visas valid for only five days.

That’s five days both to get to a Refugee Reception Office (RRO) and have an application for asylum fully processed. It’s down from two weeks in the old regulations, a change Aresta called “impractical”.

“The RROs are now only fully operating in the northern parts of the country, with the Cape Town RRO no longer accepting new applications, which makes it difficult for those entering through Cape Town entry points to travel north for application within the specified period,” it said.

“Furthermore, there are considerable delays and backlogs at the operating RROs, so that even though one may reach a RRO within the five-day period, they may not be able to submit their application and receive a permit.”

Which leads to another problem: once the initial asylum transit visa expires after five days, an asylum seeker becomes an “illegal foreigner” – and they’ll be sent packing.

“Returning a person to their country and denying them entry to the Republic for an extended period would be a severe breach of international obligations should the person be an asylum seeker or refugee,” said Aresta.

The overstaying penalty was slated as being “unduly harsh”.

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