By the time Home Affairs reopens its Cape Town refugee office it will have taken ten years

Epping office expected to open in September 2022

By Tariro Washinyira

15 November 2021

Photo of protesters

Asylum seekers protest back in 2012 outside the original Cape Town Home Affairs’ refugee reception office in Maitland. Archive photo: Veronica Washaya

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) says it will be almost another year before Cape Town gets a Refugee Reception Office once again.

As required by an order made in May by the Western Cape High Court, Home Affairs was reporting to the court on its progress for reopening a fully functional Cape Town Refugee Reception Office. It said it plans to open the new office at 16 Grenville Avenue, Epping Industrial, in September 2022.

By then it will have been ten years since Home Affairs closed the Cape Town refugee office in 2012. At the time, the High Court said the closure was unreasonable and irrational. Despite court orders to reopen an office, Home Affairs has never done so.

Home Affairs persisted with a long legal battle, until the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the department to reopen the Cape Town office at the latest by 31 March 2018, and to provide monthly status reports on its progress.

Home Affairs sought leave to appeal from the Constitutional Court but this was refused.

Frustrated by Home Affairs’ continued lack of progress, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) then applied to the Western Cape High Court for the appointment of a Special Master to oversee the reopening and to ensure Home Affairs complies with court orders.

The LRC, representing the Scalabrini Centre and the Somali Association of South Africa, had also wanted refugees and new applicants for asylum to be assisted by the department in Cape Town in the interim. This relief was not given.

The closure of the Refugee Reception Office meant refugees could only apply for asylum in Durban, Musina or Pretoria, and if they had originally applied at one of those offices they had to regularly travel and renew in person at the same office, even if they were living in Cape Town. The courts found the closure was unfairly penalising refugees.

But the High Court did not in the end appoint a Special Master, instead it ordered a case management process with Home Affairs required to file progress reports for discussion at monthly meetings with the judge, as well as the lawyers of Home Affairs and the LRC.

In the October progress report, Home Affairs confirmed that funding for the purchase price and installation of the office was in place. But additional funding is unavailable for filling managerial posts.

“The department’s budget committee must now consider whether currently available funds can be reallocated or whether officials may be seconded to the Refugee Reception Office from other posts,” Home Affairs reported.

“The existing project plan indicates that the landlord’s renovations will be completed on 3 May 2022. It will take approximately three to four months thereafter … to fit the offices out to its requirements,” the department said in the report.