22 June 2012

South Africa: Minister Must Account for Closing Down Refugee Centre

press release

Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma must account for the questionable decision to close down the Maitland Refugee Reception Office (RRO). This will be the third RRO the Department has closed down in the past two years.

This week saw countries around the world mark Refugee Day and call for the protection, tolerance and rights of refugees. In South Africa, however, the Department of Home Affairs appears bent on doing the opposite.

The reason given by the Department for closing down the office is that the lease will be terminated at the end of the month. This is similar to the excuse given for closing the Port Elizabeth office.

Although temporary facilities have been found to finalise any outstanding applications, any new applications will have to be submitted to other RROs. This means refugees and asylum seekers in the Western Cape will have to travel to RROs in another province. The DA fails to understand why new premises could not have been found in the Western Cape to ensure that the service could be continued once the existing lease was terminated.

The Legal Resources Centre has today launched an application in the Western Cape High Court to prevent the closure of the Maitland Refugee Reception Office. This is not the first time that the Department of Home Affairs has been taken to court for the closure of a Refugee Reception Office. In 2011, Home Affairs closed two metropolitan RROs in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Both of these closures were challenged in court and were deemed to be unlawful.

Home Affairs has been asked to reconsider these decisions, but instead of reconsidering, they are planning to close yet another RRO. Every time one of these offices is closed down, it becomes more difficult for refugees to exercise their rights and access the services to which they are entitled.

The importance of Refugee Reception Offices cannot be underestimated. Not only are they the first port of call for asylum seekers, but those with refugee status have to renew their status at an RRO every two years. The closure of RROs in metropolitan areas means that refugees have to travel to one of the three remaining RROs in the country in Durban, Musina or Pretoria. This places an additional financial burden on many people who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Asylum seekers come to South Africa to be free from conflict and human rights violations, but Home Affairs continues to make it as difficult as possible for them to enjoy this freedom. Not only is Home Affairs denying refugees their basic rights, but by continuing to pursue the closure of RROs, the Department is opening itself up to legal action which could result in the wasteful expenditure of public funds. This cannot continue.

Manny de Freitas, Shadow Minister of Home Affairs

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