Cape Town - Security staff at the old Customs House on the Foreshore turned a fire hose on hundreds of refugees queuing to renew their asylum seeker documents on a chilly winter’s morning.
Men, women, and mothers holding children staggered backwards as the strong jet of cold water was sprayed over them.
Some of the refugees have been queueing every day since last Monday to renew their asylum seeker’s documents, which allow an asylum seeker to live and work in South Africa on a temporary basis.
But on Monday, when the gates were opened and a frustrated crowd of about 1 000 people surged into the building, Mafoko Security staff, contracted by Home Affairs, turned the fire hose on them.
Mustapha Mohammed, a Ghanaian barber who runs a salon in Christiane in North West Province, said: “I have travelled from North West Province, and expected to have my document renewed within a day or two. Now it has been almost two weeks, and my money has run out.
“At night I am sleeping right here on the ground by the refugee centre because I don’t know anyone in Cape Town.”
He said he had to renew his documents in Cape Town because the Mother City was his port of entry.
Delays in the centre’s renewal of asylum seeker documents have seen the build-up of a processing backlog.
Many people said their “appointments” made on previous days had been nullified each morning with the arrival of more immigrants starting new queues.
Some said they had been queueing every day since Monday last week.
Braam Hanekom, of the refugee rights NGO People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop), said these documents were held by immigrants while they awaited “refugee status determination” interviews, which could see them receive longer-term documents.
An asylum seeker’s document needs to be renewed every few months.
Hanekom said Passop would send a team of investigators to the centre on Tuesday to investigate and to compile report on the delays.
He warned of the negative effects these delays had on immigrants’ lives.
His warnings were corroborated by interviews the Cape Argus conducted at the office on Monday.
Inko Mbumu Pericles from the Democratic Republic of Congo said: “I have been waiting for days and now my document has expired. I can be arrested by police at any moment, and do you think they care about your excuses before they throw you into the back of the van? The office also wants to fine R2 500 you if you come to them with an expired document.”
Raymond Ntuli, an electrician from Zimbabwe, said he had had to turn down work because he had to queue every day.
Bernard Matunga Idumo, also from the DRC, brandished a letter from his bank saying he could not access his account until Home Affairs provided them with “verification” of his asylum status.
Yusuf Simons, provincial manager for Home Affairs in the Western Cape, said the department had scheduled more interviews over the past week to finalise outstanding applications for asylum seeker permits.
These outstanding application apparently relate to a backlog that originated from the closure of Cape Town’s refugee centre in July last year.
“Today, we have taken down the names of those asylum seekers that could not be assisted, and they will be prioritised for service today.”
Simons said the old Customs House was being used as a temporary refugee centre, dealing mainly with the backlog of asylum seeker permits submitted in Cape Town before the closure of the refugee centre last June.
“No new applications for asylum are processed in Cape Town.”