27 JANUARY 2022
By Andre van Wyk
Cape Town — A bilateral meeting between Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has given new focus to the management of refugees and asylum seekers in the country. The session discussed strengthening of the asylum and refugee system in South Africa, including but not limited to legislative reform, social assistance, judicial engagement and the Global Compact on Refugees.
Motsoaledi said on the session: “This bilateral was instructed by our Cabinet to, amongst others, overhaul the management of the asylum system in South Africa with the intention to partner with UNHCR to provide increased technical assistance and resource mobilization support in order to enhance the protection regime and strengthen our strategic partnership.” Motsaledi added that the Government is reviewing the Refugee Act, the Citizenship Act and the Immigration Act to align them and simplify them for everyone.
This can be noted in action by the Constitutional Court which reversed amendments to the Refugees Act that made administration difficult for refugees applying for asylum but easier for Home Affairs officials to unjustly detain and deport them. The apex court ruled that refugees and asylum seekers could now apply for permits locally, and that they can stay in the country pending the status of their application for asylum.
Amendments that were made to the Refugee Act and implemented on January 1, 2020 were the subject of debate and litigation. The provisions of the amendments and regulations were criticised for being unfair and unjust. One of the provisions, for example, stated that an asylum application is deemed abandoned if an asylum seeker had not renewed documentation within 30 days of its expiration.
Due to these amendments to the act, many refugees faced the prospect of being deported to dangerous places they had escaped, with their children condemned to statelessness.
The bilateral meeting also comes in the light of the announcement of the reopening of the refugee offices in Epping, Cape Town. The office had been closed for nearly a decade. In 2012, the high court said the closure was unreasonable and irrational. This was despite court orders to reopen an office, which Home Affairs did not adhere to.
This new approach to the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers contrasts recent action by opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters that has been described as xenophobic. This was due to members of the party targeting restaurants, threatening staff and demanding a reduction in the number of migrants employed at establishments.
EFF spokesperson Vuyani Pambo told Radio 702 the party demanded a 60/40 ratio of local to migrant employees. The EFF said its restaurant visits were to “check labour policies, staff complement and ensure that our fellow Africans are not being exploited and locals are employed at a satisfactory level”.