Answer to a question from a reader

What is the asylum application procedure?

The short answer

You need to apply at the nearest Refugee Reception Office, but all the offices are closed during lockdown.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

For example, where can the applications be made and when are the offices open?

The long answer

There are five Refugee Reception Offices (RROs): in Pretoria (Marabastad), Johannesburg (Crown Mines), Durban (Greyville), Cape Town (Maitland) and Port Elizabeth (North End). 

Unfortunately, all the Refugee Reception Offices, which asylum seekers are obliged to report to, remain closed under lockdown. Home Affairs has said that they will begin an online renewal process for asylum seekers and refuge documentation, but this has not happened thus far. Home Affairs has also indicated that if your asylum seeker permit has expired from 15 March 2020 onwards, it is considered valid up to 30 June 2021.

The asylum application process is as follows: an asylum seeker entering South Africa is issued with a non-renewable section 23 Permit, which is an “asylum transit permit” valid for 14 days. You must present yourself at the nearest RRO to apply for asylum under Section 21 of the Refugee Act. There are always long queues outside the RROs so it’s best to arrive early. It could take several days to actually get inside.

You must give the RRO the following documents:

  • A section 23 permit

  • Any proof of identity from your country of origin

  • A travel document if you have one

At the RRO, there is an “admissibility hearing” where they will help you complete an eligibility form, B1-1590:

  • Your fingerprints are taken, and image and other data are captured

  • A first interview is conducted by a Refugee Reception Officer and the B1-1590 form is completed. In this interview you will be asked to give your name, nationality, ethnic group, religion, the number of people in your family, whether you’ve been to South Africa before, your education and work experience, if you’ve done military service, where you lived, why you left your country, which political organisations you joined. It’s important to remember exactly what you said because they will check to see that your story is the same in the second interview at the RRO.

  • They will open a file for you and you will be given a case number and a file number, which you must write down, in case you lose your permit papers.

  • You will be given a section 22 permit, which is an asylum seeker’s permit. The section 22 permit is valid for three to six months.  You will have to return to the RRO to renew it again and again until they ask you to come back for the second interview. With this permit, you can work, study and go to the clinics or hospitals in South Africa, and you cannot be deported to your country of origin. You should make a copy of the permit and keep it in a safe place.

The second interview, called the Status Determination hearing, is conducted by a Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO). The RSDO will refer to the form you filled in at your first interview and may ask questions to test whether you were telling the truth. The RSDO may ask about all sorts of things in your country of origin – places, languages, cultures and history. You are allowed to have a legal representative at this interview plus your own interpreter, and you can bring witnesses and affidavits from witnesses. Your legal representative is not allowed to participate in the interview, though, and is just there to observe. The RSDO will give you a date to go back to the RRO for the decision about your application, which will be in the form of a letter. This could take some months. In the meantime, you should make sure that your asylum seeker permit is renewed.

If you are granted refugee status, you will be given a section 24 permit or refugee permit, valid for two years. You must renew this permit three months before it expires.

If they refuse you refugee status, depending on the reason, you can appeal within 30 days to the Refugee Appeal Board or the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs. In that case, it would be best to take legal advice.

For further advice, you could approach the Scalabrini Organisation’s Advocacy Team. To do this, you can send a WhatsApp to 078 260 3536. Or you can call, SMS or send a please-call-me to 083 433 5062, and one of the Advocacy team members will get back to you.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on April 15, 2021, 11:49 a.m.

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