PASSOP REPORT LAUNCH ON ASYLUM-SEEKERS’ ACCESS TO THE CAPE TOWN REFUGEE RECEPTION CENTRE
AND RESULTING IMPLICATIONS OF AMENDMENTS TO THE IMMIGRATION ACT.
PASSOP has launched its monitoring report “The Road to Documentation: Asylum Seekers’ Access to the Cape Town Refugee Reception Centre” (can be downloaded here) which exposes the unfair treatment of asylum-seekers attempting to legalise themselves at the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office in Maitland. The report exposes that in two weeks over 1600 people were turned away unassisted, several people were physically abused and asylum seekers were left without toilets for over a month. The number of people left unassisted is of particular concern in light of the new amendments to the immigration act which allow for jail terms for undocumented immigrants and that provide only 5 days for asylum seekers to apply for Asylum.
The report launch included a discussion chaired by Braam Hanekom, the monitoring Project Manager, Alaina Varvaloucas, and monitors Stanford Hove and Kumbirai Bvuna. Members of the press and other interested parties attended.
In the past few months, Parliament has passed several major changes to the Immigration Act of 2002, two of which PASSOP believes will significantly affect asylum-seekers. The first is reducing the asylum transit permit, a 14-day permit, which allows asylum-seekers to enter South Africa provided they report to a Refugee Reception Office (RRO) within the allotted 14 days, to 5 days. The second is instituting jail sentences of 2.5-4 years for undocumented migrants and for those caught aiding or knowingly employing undocumented migrants. Since refugee reception centres around South Africa operate at an under-capacity, many new asylum-seekers are not able to successfully get access to an RRO’s services within 14 days, and many more go undocumented because they are consistently turned away from centres and refused documents. Reducing the asylum transit permit—often referred to as a border pass—to 5 days will thus be to the detriment of thousands more asylum-seekers, and mandating that an undocumented migrant be jailed with criminals for several years, especially when that migrant may be undocumented through no fault of his or her own, is a cruel overreaction.
To assess ease of access to documentation at the Cape Town RRO, PASSOP monitors surveyed every person coming out of the Cape Town centre during all opening hours for two weeks. In total, 1,659 people were refused service for various reasons, including: a lack of supplies and paper, employees not coming to work, missing or expired transit visas, queues being too long, and others. Three major and several minor violent incidents of guards attacking people in the queue were recorded, as well as multiple instances of corruption. The report finds that due to the RRO’s inability to serve asylum-seekers in an efficient, consistent, and courteous manner, the situation at the Cape Town centre will only become worse when DHA officials begin implementing the new amendments to the Immigration Act. If the new amendments are to be fair policies, the Cape Town centre, as well as the other five centres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Musina, Durban, and Port Elizabeth, must drastically improve its service delivery.