Wednesday, 29 February 2012

"Let Me In"

I don't normally blog about work, because of the confidential nature of my consulation with individual clients.  Yet an interesting thing happened yesterday that I just have to share with you.  I previously wrote about the problem of access to the asylum process in South Africa.  This problem is ongoing.

Yesterday Vee, one of the other interns at LHR, was doing some monitoring outside the Department of Home Affairs' Durban Refugee Reception Office.  She noticed that a large number of newcomers were not allowed inside the fence and were upset that they were not given the opportunity to apply for asylum.  She advised them that if they need any legal assistance they could come to Lawyers for Human Rights.

So as I am sitting in my office and having my coffee Vee comes back and tells me that there is a group of 40 Ethiopians on their way to LHR.  Now, I have committed to taking care of all the access matters, so this was a bit overwhelming.  I asked her if she was sure and she told me that she saw the entire group walking our way as she drove back from Home Affairs.  Holy s@#t

As the clients started coming in, our receptionist was instructed by our office manager to close the door, forcing the majority of men to wait outside the fence of the Diakonia Centre.  Vee and I decided to deal with all the matter simeltaneously.  So we bravely went outside to face the crowd and take everyone's name.  As we nervously held our clipboards, we realized that we weren't faced by an angry mob, but by a number of desparate men who were looking for help.  In fact, they had already written their names and ages on small pieces of paper and orderly approached us in groups of five.  As we made sure that we had documented all of them, we told them that we would address the matter with the Department of Home Affairs.  The final total was actually 70 people.

We heard stories about men who spend the night outside Home Affairs to ensure that they are at the front of the line when the doors open in the morning.  We also saw a client who told us that because of his size it is really hard for him to push through the crowd in order to get through the gate.  He was, however, successful in touching the gate during one of his attempts. 

As the day wore on we had some of the clients return to ensure that their names had in fact been placed on some sort of list.  They also tried to ensure that friends of theirs who were in a similar predicament also made it on the list.

By the afternoon we were able to get ahold of the office manager at the Department of Home Affairs.  She informed us that because of their limited resources their office only has the capacity to take in 40 newcomers per day.  So we should just tell people to keep trying.  Hopefully our 70 clients get access to the asylum process at some point.

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