Answer to a question from a reader

How do I renew my asylum papers?

The short answer

There is no short answer to this question

The whole question

I am an asylum seeker. My asylum papers are expiring soon. How do I go about renewing them?

The long answer

Thank you for your email asking for help to renew your asylum seeker permit.

This is how it is supposed to work:

When an asylum seeker goes to a Refugee Reception Office (RRO), he or she is interviewed by a refugee reception officer and given a DHA-1590 (application for asylum form) to fill in, and is photographed and bio-data (fingerprints) captured. You are then given a section 22 permit (an asylum seeker permit) which is valid for six months and makes it legal to stay in South Africa while waiting for the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to decide whether it will grant refugee status or not. The permit can be extended every four to six months pending a final decision, and you are allowed to move around freely, study and work. The DHA is supposed to make a decision within six months, but because of lack of resources and corruption, it can take five years or more.

The DHA’s decision to close the Refugee Reception Offices (RRO) in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth means that they don’t have the resources they need to process applications and so there is a huge backlog of about 140,000. The DHA was taken to court by human rights groups and ordered by the courts to re-open the Cape Town RRO, and they say it will open in Maitland by June 2019. At the present time though, there are only three RRO’s operating where your permit can be renewed: in Durban, Musina and Pretoria.

Before the permit expires, you must have a second interview with a refugee status determination officer at an RRO, who either grants asylum, or rejects the application, or who can refer a question of law to the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs (SCRA).

If your application is successful, you are given a Section 24 permit, or refugee permit, which is valid for two years. After five years of living here on a refugee status permit, you can apply for permanent residence (though this may change when a new law on permanent residence comes into effect).

If your application is rejected, you can appeal within 30 days. The Refugee Appeal Board will then call you to another hearing before it makes a decision.

If it's just a matter of getting your asylum papers renewed, a former asylum seeker explained to us how the  process works:

Go to the same RRO where you got your asylum. Do this a week or two before it expiry. If you leave it too close to expiry they will turn you away. If you go too long before expiry they will also turn you away.  You should go early in the morning (e.g. 2am) to have a good chance of being served. The queues are long and they only take a certain number of people. Try to be in the first 50. Most of the people outside who offer you help are scam artists so be careful. Once you are inside the process should work better.  Your asylum papers will be taken from you. You might then have to wait a long time, but hopefully before the end of the day the renewed papers will be returned to you. There might be different queues for men and women. There might also be days set aside for people of your nationality.

Here are a few organisations you can contact for assistance:

Lawyers for Human Rights:
Johannesburg office:
Tel: 011 339 1960
Cape Town office:
021 424 8561

Legal Resources Centre:

African Diaspora Forum:

Answered on Feb. 27, 2019, 3:25 p.m.

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