96% of refugee applications are refused, say lawyers

Home Affairs is “institutionally xenophobic”, Human Rights Commission told

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Photo of women addressing meeting
Kayan Leung and Sharon Ekambaram of Lawyers for Human Rights addressing the SA Human Rights Commission hearing on xenophobia on Wednesday. Photo: Zoe Postman

About 96% of refugee applications are rejected according to Lawyers for Human Rights, which has described the Department of Home Affairs as “institutionally xenophobic”.

Advocates from LHR Kayan Leung and Sharon Ekambaram were addressing a SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) hearing in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Leung told the panel that refugee reception offices were often corrupt, and Home Affairs was uncooperative in helping asylum seekers get refugee statuses.

She said the refugee office in Messina had approved only two out 10,043 applications for refugee status in 2013. In 2014, she said three out of 14,586 had been approved. No applications were approved in 2015.

“Two years back, we have a 96% rejection rate overall in this country,” said Ekambaram.

The two-day hearing was set up by the SAHRC to understand the causes and effects of xenophobia on South Africans and immigrants. Submissions were made by LHR, the Foundation for Human Rights, African Diaspora Forum, Hate Crimes Working Group, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, as well as the Department of Education.

Leung said immigrants were often denied access to basic health care, education and public services based on the public servant’s prejudice against immigrants. She made an example of a case where LHR was assisting an unaccompanied foreign minor. LHR took the minor to a consultation with a social worker at the Department of Social Development.

“The minor came out of the consultation visibly disturbed. It turns out that the social worker lashed out at him saying that he was lying about his age, lying that he didn’t have family here and saying he was just here to abuse South Africa’s services and resources,” she said.

Leung said there was also corruption at all stages of the application process. She said LHR had conducted a survey which showed that one third of the participants experienced corruption at the refugee offices.

Commissioner Angie Makwetla, one of the panel members, asked the LHR what steps the State and SAHRC should take to curb corruption at the refugee offices.

“There is always a call for evidence. We have been working with the Hawks to find a way to get the evidence that is needed… because when we report it to the Department, there is always denial. There needs to be an oversight and monitoring system,” answered Ekambaram.

Laura Freeman, another panel member, asked the LHR to expand on their efforts to work with Home Affairs and whether they have been successful or not.

Leung said LHR had worked well with Home Affairs for years because many of the public servants were former activists. But more recently, she said, the LHR had received either no responses or inadequate responses from Home Affairs, which often forced it to take legal action.

“As an attorney, I would rather just resolve the issue over the phone or via email and not go to litigation with every case. It’s a drain on state resources and it’s a waste of time because people only see results after a year or so,” Leung said in her closing statement.

Panel member Commissioner Chris Nissen thanked LHR for its submission and promised to take its suggestions into consideration.

The hearing continues on Thursday morning.

TOPICS:  Immigration

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

This is what happen to me in 2012 when I arrived in South Africa. My refugee status was granted, unfortunately one of the consultants refused to give it to me because he required too much money.

I hope I'll get my status back and that this corruption will end.

Dear Editor

I totally agree with the sentiments that the Department of Home Affairs is not doing its best when it comes to resolving issues involving foreigners.

I have been waiting for a determination on my application for permanent residency since October 2015, and each time I make an inquiry the response is the same - Pending.

Dear Editor

One of my friends is on asylum in South Africa. Every time I asked how is it that you don't have citizenship as you've been in the country for several years now, he tells me it's nearly impossible as they always want large sums of money ranging from R5000 to R25 000 for at least a 6 month extension on asylum (usually granted 3 months).

I accompanied my friend for his next asylum renewal. The outside and inside security kept on asking who I was, what do I want here as if I were an undercover investigator. I finally went inside which I had also been denied the right as I wasn't a foreigner so I used the excuse of needing to use the bathroom.

Many other staff members noticed me as I didn't "fit in" they approached me and interrogated me with the same questions. When asking why the asylum status of my friend had not been changed over to refugee status he simply replied: "They not meant to be permanently here, because they only come here for business and once their business is done they must leave. These kinds of people will never be granted refugee status because they are not facing any wars in their country."

Dear Editor

Struggling to get permanent residence but my husband and all my children have been approved. My recent outcome was submitted to Johannesburg provincial office and when I went there, I was told it 'was rejected and what do you need it for?'

I still have not received a copy of the rejection letter but was told by mouth that it's a rejection. Although I stressed that I need to see it I never got the copy. How do they get to give father and children permanent residence and refuse the mother I still wonder? I am being separated from my family.

Dear Editor

The report is true and the Home Affairs officials are aware of their xenophobic attitude towards asylum seekers.

I have noticed that most of the officials do not have the required skills. I took a course in refugee law and humanitarian support from UNISA.

I can assure you that all the refugee reception offices in SA lack the intellectual resources to deal with refugee cases with empathy. They are xenophobic. They need to be trained, educated before they enter this delicate profession.

Dear Editor

I totally agree with the sentiments that the Department of Home Affairs is not doing its best when it comes to resolving issues involving foreigners. I'm waiting a year for my papers.

Dear Editor

I'm 29, I had been renewing my asylum seeker permit for 10 years, since I was 19, without leaving South Africa. When I went to renew again in 2017 in the morning at 6am, we were tricked into entering the Home Affairs building, thinking the officials were going to renew for us. They detained about 100 of us and were deported 3 weeks later.

I left my doublecab, worth R150K, in the parking lot at Matabastad Home Affairs. Officials said I was going back with nothing and I know nothing of its whereabouts. I also left behind my 10yr old business.

All I want is a week to collect my belongings and leave properly. I paid R7000 for an emergency passport but was banned entry to SA.

Dear Editor

I'm a 36-year-old mother of 13 year old daughter. I was beaten twice at home affairs: first I was hit with a belt by a security guard at the gate of home affairs for asking him permission to present a letter from appeal board in August 2017.

Then in October 2017, I was violently assaulted by a male official of home affairs, for joining the wrong queue by mistake. My daughter was also brutalised in the process. I failed to extend her permit in October 2017 because an ambulance was rushed at the scene to collect me after I collapse of pain.

In April 2018, I brought my child to extend her asylum but they told me that since she missed the October extension, it is an overstay. I opened a case to Pretoria police, but I know it doesn't matter to pursue the case. They are untouchable, our lives have no value in this country.

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