Plight of asylum seekers to be heard in Concourt

Chaos erupted at the refugee centre on Cape Town's Foreshore when applicants trying to pick up their extensions to their visas were turned away again, something they say happens every day. Picture: File

Chaos erupted at the refugee centre on Cape Town's Foreshore when applicants trying to pick up their extensions to their visas were turned away again, something they say happens every day. Picture: File

Published Aug 5, 2023

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Cape Town - A Constitutional Court application by the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town against the Minister of Home Affairs and the standing committee for refugee affairs sets out to fight for the plight of refugees who are deemed to have abandoned their asylum after their visa expired.

The hearing is expected to take place on August 24.

Minister of Home Affairs Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the director-general of the department and the chairperson of the standing committee for refugee affairs are all respondents.

According to court papers filed, the impugned provisions provide that asylum seekers who have not renewed their visas in terms of section 22 of the Refugees Act within one month of the date of expiry of the visa are considered to have “abandoned” their applications.

They have called for the provisions to be reviewed based on the backlog of visa and asylum applications.

But in a written submission, the respondents say they dealt with at least 53 000 applications a year and were required to process more than 400 000 applications which were lodged in a period of two years.

The documents state refugees are therefore treated as illegal foreigners and are subjected to arrest, detention and deportation.

The application is made via the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town, which advocates for refugees.

If returned to their respective countries, refugees may face death, torture, sexual violence and other forms of persecution.

According to the centre, asylum applications were no longer accepted at the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (CTRRO).

The Western Cape High Court had accepted that the impugned provisions violate constitutional rights and were thus prima facie unlawful and conceded that there was a need to do away with the provisions.

The centre questioned whether the impugned provisions infringe on constitutional rights in the event that an asylum seeker is sent back to his or her country and if the provisions are reasonable.

“The fundamental safeguard asylum seekers have against these harms is the right not to be returned to the countries in which harms will occur,” the written application states.

“When a person’s asylum claim is upheld, he or she is recognised as a refugee and granted a refugee permit.

“But until that occurs, asylum seekers in South Africa are issued merely with visas.

“The purpose of this visa is to protect and document an asylum seeker until their application is finalised.

“They are required to renew these visas typically between every three to six months at a refugee reception office.”

The “Weekend Argus” has approached the SA Human Rights Commission for comment on the application but they did not respond by the time of publishing.

Weekend Argus