“Access” has become the most commonly used word in the Durban Lawyers for Human Rights office. My guess would be that it is also regularly used in other LHR offices as well as other refugee and human rights organizations throughout
. South Africa
The South African asylum process mandates that an asylum seeker obtain a border transit permit (also known as a Section 23 permit) from the border, which is valid for 14 days. This means that an asylum seeker subsequently has 14 days to approach a Refugee Reception Office, where he or she can submit an asylum application.
The problem is that most asylum seekers who enter
do so illegally. They are either hiding in trucks while being smuggled in by human traffickers or finding ways to cross the electric fences at the border. One of my recent clients described how there is a portion of the fence where a hole has been dug underneath it and asylum seekers can crawl through. South Africa
Recent reports from border towns indicate that authorities, including the South African forces are blindly turning refugees away before they have the opportunity to claim asylum. This is of course not uncommon, as in many developed countries, including Canada, border services agents stand at the gate and check passports before people have the opportunity to disembark an airplane. Yet, with
being the highest recipient of refugees and asylum seekers in the world, there seems to be a lot at stake. South Africa
After entering the country most asylum seekers eventually approach a Refugee Reception Office to apply for asylum. The problem is that when they do, they rarely have a border transit permit. Authorities have been using this as a reason to refuse access to the asylum process and send people away. In fact, people are being told to return back to the border to get a border transit permit. What is interesting, however, is that the law does not actually require an asylum seeker to have this permit in order to apply for asylum.
This situation is further exacerbated by the Department of Home Affair’s recent refusal to issue border transit permits at some of the busiest ports of entry altogether. It appears that this manoeuvre is part of an overall long-term strategy to move all refugee services to the country’s borders that has also included the closure of the
and Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Offices. The Johannesburg office closed in May 2011 after local businesses complained about the increase of refugees in the area. The closure of the Johannesburg office is still being disputed in court. Port Elizabeth
In a public statement Amnesty International has expressed its concern that recent developments “would likely result in the dismissal of meritorious claims to international protection, in violation of
But while the Department of Home Affairs is desperately trying to deal with the mass influx of asylum seekers into
and human rights organizations are trying to ensure that their rights are protected, those of us actually working on the ground often feel like we are fighting a losing battle. Though we try to brainstorm ways of addressing the problem, with every client who enters our office claiming they have been turned away by the Department of Home Affairs, it is becoming more and more difficult to remain optimistic. One thing, however, is clear. Access to the asylum process is the first step of making certain that people who have seen and experienced some horrible things in their lives and who have genuine refugee claims are protected from persecution, serious harm and even death. And we at least owe them that much. South Africa
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