Refugee indicators flawed – FMSP

JOHANNESBURG - The Forced Migration Studies Programme (FMSP) at Wits University has released a new report on the quality of refugee status determination in South Africa, which it said was flawed and should be urgently reformed.

Entitled, Protection and Pragmatism: Addressing Administrative Failures in South Africas Refugee Status Determination Decisions, the report, which was written by Roni Amit, said such deficiencies in this process had serious repercussions not just for the asylum seeker, but also affect the credibility of Department Home Affairs in carrying out its functions in accordance with the law.

This report reveals that there are serious flaws in the status determination process as it is being conducted by Refugee Status Determination Officers. Virtually none of the letters reviewed contained a proper evaluation of the asylum claim in accordance with refugee and administrative law, Amit said.

The report analysed the quality of status determination decisions issued at South Africas five permanent refugee reception offices in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, as well as the additional temporary office established in Pretoria, the Tshwane Interim Refugee Reception Office (TIRRO). The analysis was based on a review of 324 negative status determination decisions, or rejection letters, from these offices.

The decision letters, which represent the culmination of the status determination process conducted by the Refugee Status Determination Officer, play a crucial role in providing protection for asylum seekers who can no longer seek the protection of their home countries. Because asylum seekers whose claims are not properly evaluated may be returned to their home countries, where they face serious threats to their lives and freedom, a flawed status determination process has grave human rights repercussions.

Department of Home Affairs has previously conceded to its flaws in the process and said numerous challenges were stifling efforts to resolve such problems. In the report, Amit recommends for an overhaul of South Africas refugee determination system.

As noted, reform of the refugee reception system without broader reform of South Africas immigration management system is unlikely to be effective. As the immigration framework is reformed, the system of refugee protection must be fundamentally re-shaped to recognise that the refugee system is not an immigration control system; it must stand separate from and parallel to the system of immigration control. The protective purpose of refugee law must be made paramount, in accord with South Africas domestic and international legal obligations, so that individuals who are entitled to this protection are able to avail themselves of it.

South Africa is home to an estimated three million Zimbabwes, most of whom fled the economic and political downturn that bedeviled their country in the last decade. A significant number of these, who fled persecution, have applied for refugee status but the applications are yet to be ascertained.

Those who aim to apply for asylum permits also face an uphill task as congestion characterizes refugee reception centres around South Africa. Last year, Home Affairs opened the Tshwane Interim Refugee Reception Office (TIRRO) which is dedicated to process new applications for asylum from people coming from Southern African Development Community region. The centre has not done much to relieve pressure already experienced at the two refugee reception offices at Marabastad, Pretoria and Crown Mines, as was expected.

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