Closure of Durban refugee centre leaves asylum seekers in limbo

Government and institutions are ignoring minister’s blanket extension of permits

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Photo of a building

The Durban Refugee Reception Centre has been closed since March. Photo: Nokulunga Majola

  • The Durban Refugee Reception Centre has been closed since March lockdown.
  • Documentation of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers has expired.
  • This has created a host of problems in daily life for refugees.
  • A blanket extension was given till 31 January 2021, but government departments, other institutions and the police do not respect this.

The Coalition of the Poor has called on the Minister of Home Affairs to take urgent steps at Refugee Reception Centres nationwide and place additional resources at their disposal so that visas can be renewed without further delay. This comes after two immigrants allege police assaulted them in Durban on 16 October.

Azuri Muhuli, 24, and Bushambela Yakobo, 26, from the DRC, say police assaulted them when they could not produce valid asylum seeker visas. Muhuli’s had expired in July and he had not been able to renew it; Yakobo’s had been stolen, and he had not been able to renew it, but he had an affidavit to say so. They say they were beaten, detained, insulted, and afterwards released without charge. They have reported the matter to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

According to the Coalition statement “there are tens of thousands of asylum seekers whose visas have expired during the lockdown. The assurance by the Department of Home Affairs that expired permits are still valid clearly carries no weight if this de facto extension is not even recognised by SAPS.”

The organisation is calling on the Minister of Police to issue an assurance that SAPS is instructed not to victimise immigrants.

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) Durban Refugee Reception Centre has been closed since the March Covid-19 lockdown.

“While DHA services have re-opened for South African nationals, the department’s failure to open services to foreign nationals is a clear example of discrimination … placing an unbearable burden on refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom have suffered through months of lockdown-related unemployment with no recourse to social relief,” said the Coalition.

Echoing the organisation’s sentiments, Daniel Byamungu Dunia, executive director of the Africa Solidarity Network (ASN), said Covid-19 has created more challenges for refugees. Dunia said many refugees’ permits and asylum seekers’ visas have expired, including his.

“My refugee status and my passport are expired. The problem is that if you are carrying an expired visa, Durban Metro police and the South African Police Service are arresting people right and left. We are faced with too much police brutality. They keep innocent refugees and asylum seekers in custody. As we speak, we have a high number of refugees and asylum seekers in custody due to expired documents,” said Dunia.

He said although the Minister of Home Affairs had declared that permit visas are extended until 31 January 2021, this was not being respected.

Dunia said money is being frozen in their accounts by the banks; people with expired documents cannot access social grants; and they cannot travel.

Yasmin Rajah, director of Refugee Social Services at the Diakonia Centre in Durban said children’s admission to schools was being made difficult because of expired documents.

She said even when the refugee centre was open, newly arrived asylum seekers had battled to get appointments because of lack of capacity, there were long queues and problems with systems, and most asylum seekers were being rejected.

Department of Home Affairs spokesperson David Hlabane said, “The Refugee Reception Centres will remain closed until 31 January 2021 or until the Republic of South Africa declares them open. All stakeholders, refugees and asylum seekers will be notified when the Refugee Reception Centres are declared open.”

TOPICS:  Covid-19 Immigration

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