SW Radio Africa (London)

23 November 2012

Zimbabwe: South Africa Govt Facing Contempt Charges Over Refugee Office Closures

Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN
File photo: Zimbabwe economic migrants crawl under the border fence into South Africa from Zimbabwe.

The South African government could soon face being charged with contempt of court, as part of an ongoing battle by human rights groups to stop the closure of refugee reception offices across the country.

There are now only three offices left open across South Africa since the authorities started closing the facilities last year, as part if what is understood to be a change in the government's immigration policies. The government is believed to be in the process of relocating all refugee offices to the borders, a plan that has been slammed as an attempt to keep asylum seekers as close to the borders as possible, making it easier to deport them.

The offices in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town have all been closed over the course of the last year. Refugees and other foreign nationals, who need to make regular reports to these offices, are now forced to travel to Durban, Musina or Pretoria to meet their obligations. The result has been hundreds of people risking arrest and deportation because they cannot access the available offices.

The Consortium of Refugee and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA) launched an awareness and pressure campaign in June, urging the government to suspend its closure plans and also reopen the facilities it has closed. Part of this campaign has been a lengthy process of litigation, with CoRMSA and other groups taking legal steps to have the offices reopened.

CoRMSA spokesperson Gwadamirai Majange told SW Radio Africa on Friday that despite the courts ruling in their favour "in all instances," there has been no attempt by the government to honour these rulings. She said they are now considering filing contempt charges.

"The impact on refugees has really been grave. For example the distances between Durban and Port Elizabeth is really big, and not all refugees have the money to make such a journey," Majange said.

She continued: "In Pretoria, there is such a problem with congestion that people are queuing for days outside the office there. They are also faced with corruption, because they are vulnerable to bribes to make the process move faster. People are missing work, children are missing school. We just want the government to honour their obligations to refugees."

Last year it was reported that two people were killed and 14 Zimbabwean nationals were injured in a stampede of angry, impatient refugees at the Pretoria office. South Africa has denied that any problems have ever been reported there.

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