Asylum seekers complain to Human Rights Commission about Home Affairs

| Tariro Washinyira
Asylum seekers complaining against Home Affairs wait to be assisted at the SAHRC Cape Town offices. Photo by Tariro Washinyira.

About eighty asylum seekers have launched a complaint with the South African Rights Commission (SAHRC) against the Department of Home Affairs.

Earlier this year the Cape High Court handed down an interim judgement that the Home Affairs office on Cape Town’s foreshore must serve new asylum seekers. Home Affairs appealed the interim order, but Judge Dennis Davis ruled against the department. The Department is now obliged to process new asylum applications at its Cape Town office because Davis found that the inconvenience of forcing asylum seekers to travel up-country far exceeds the inconvenience to Home Affairs. Yet new asylum seekers are still not being served. The Cape Town office has been turning away asylum-seekers in defiance of the court order.

The asylum seekers have therefore settled outside Home Affairs offices on the foreshore.

Some of the refugees told GroundUp that the centre’s officials and security guards have physically dragged them outside the Home Affairs premises and told them to go apply for documents in Musina, Durban and Pretoria. Refugees we spoke to said they were afraid of travelling to these areas because it will expose them to being arrested and deported. They also allege that their right to freedom and security has been infringed since an asylum document gives them access to health care services, employment and education.

A spokesperson for the group, Themba Padare (not his real name), said the group was made up of people mainly from Lesotho, Ghana, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. They have been camping outside Home Affairs offices since last week Monday and are demanding to legalise their stay in South Africa.

He added, “We are here to launch a complaint about human rights abuse with SAHRC against Home Affairs officials. They have been throwing us inside and out without explaining anything to us, yet we have not been violent. We were just standing in the queue.”

“One of the Home Affairs officials dragged about ten women out of the queue. The official told us asylum seekers to leave and go apply for asylums in Musina, Durban or Pretoria. It is impossible to travel to those areas without legal papers. We will face deportation. All this is in contempt of court and we do not have the money to go there.”

A young woman from Lesotho who refused to be named said, “I have been in South Africa for seven months and I am finding it difficult to legalise my status. When we went to the SAHRC offices, the Head Office Manager looked amused by our desperation and took photographs of us.”

Another refugee from Rwanda said he has been staying in South Africa for 13 years and has got refugee status. He explained that he went to launch the complaint at the SAHRC offices to give support to other asylum seekers. “It is their right to apply for asylum. It is unsafe to let these people go to Gauteng with no documents. They are not protected and they will get arrested. The Department of Home Affairs is violating their basic human rights,” he explained.

GroundUp emailed Home Affairs on Friday requesting a response. We have also tried to phone the department. Home Affairs has not responded. In fact Home Affairs has not responded on the last several occasions that GroundUp has attempted to reach the department for comment.

A media statement from the SAHRC confirmed that they are handling the asylum seekers plea against Home Affairs. It reads as follows:

The South African Human Rights Commission has noted with concern reports of allegations of human rights abuses against the asylum seekers in the Western Cape. The Commission is currently processing formal complaints received today (26th September 2012) from at least eighty asylum seekers, including two children, against the Department of Home Affairs. The aforementioned complainants allege the following:

  1. That they are new applicants who have unsuccessfully been attempting to legalise their status with the Department of Home Affairs, Cape Town.
  2. Applicants have even resorted to sleeping outside the Reception Centre in order to gain entry for purposes of processing.
  3. Applicants have relayed incidents of having been physically thrown out of the Reception Centre by officials and security officers stationed there.
  4. That officials have advised the applicants to travel to the other provinces in order to be processed as said processing would not be facilitated in Cape Town. The Home Affairs officials argue that capacity is the problem, but based on our discussions with them today, this is not the issue
  5. The applicants fear arrest for not having the relevant documentation issued by the Department. The complainants allege that the Department of Home Affairs’ conduct amounts to a violation of their right to just administrative action and their right to freedom and security.

The SAHRC will be investigating these allegations in the light of the decision of and the Honourable Judge J Davis on 25 July 2012 in the matter of Scalabrini Centre Cape Town (“Applicant”) v The Minister of Home Affairs & 4 Others, in which the Western Cape High Court ordered the respondents, pending the final determination of the relief sought in Part B of the notice of motion, to ensure that a refugee reception office remains open and fully functional within the Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality, at which applicants for asylum can make applications for asylum and be issued with section 22 permits.

The Chairperson of the SAHRC has approached the Department of Home Affairs to bring this matter to their attention. We will continue to engage with them and other civil society groups to ensure that the rights of the asylum seekers are respected and protected.

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TOPICS:  Immigration

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