The Home Affairs Refugee Reception Office on the Foreshore was closed down because the building was in disrepair. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Cape Town - In July 2012, the Department of Home Affairs closed the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (CTRRO) for new asylum applications. The closure meant the CTRRO was no longer fully-functional and would operate only for those asylum-seekers who had lodged claims prior to the closure.
 
Asylum-seekers who arrived after the closure had to apply at the remaining RROs - Durban, Musina and Pretoria - and then return to the RRO of application for any further administration of their claims, including permit renewals. The practical reality thereof is that many have to travel very far distances (up to 2 000km) every 1-6 months to renew their permits, which is costly – both financially and emotionally –, places heavy burdens on families, and makes asylum-seekers vulnerable to abuse, sexual violence and extortion.
 
In September 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ordered the Department of Home Affairs to open a fully-functioning CTRRO for new asylum applications, citing the Department’s decision to close the second busiest Refugee Reception Office in South Africa as “irrational and unlawful”. The action was brought by Scalabrini, the Somali Association of South Africa and others and were represented by the Legal Resources Centre. The Court gave the Department until 31 March 2018 to re-open the CTRRO. It also instructed the Department to provide regular progress reports on how its preparations towards re-opening were advancing.

The woman in this video,Sifa, has to travel from Cape Town to Musina or Durban to get a permit to stay in the country. On one occasion, she and her boyfriend were robbed of R10 000 while en route to apply for a permit. Video: Sonke Gender Justice

The Department has failed to provide any progress updates. 

Throughout this period, various civil society organisations tried to engage the Department of Home Affairs to seek information and updates, but received none. On 27 March, representatives from human rights and migrant organisations staged a silent protest at the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs in Parliament to urge the Department to comply with the court order, while also embarking on a Count Down campaign to raise awareness of the number of days left before the SCA deadline. 
 
Representatives from the Department eventually met with 11 civil society organisations on 28 March. This meeting arose out of an initial visit to the RRO in which we attempted to ascertain the readiness status of the RRO and was not part of the court process, nor the official progress report as ordered by the SCA. Civil society organisations were informed that the RRO would not be fully operational by 31 March, as it was now up to the Department of Public Works to secure premises, and that further questions pertaining to the re-opening should be referred to their Legal Services. 

Sonke Gender Justice