Thousands of Zimbabwean refugees face bleak future

Thousands of Zimbabwean refugees face a bleak future following a decision to close down the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office that has been holding them, The Zimbabwe has learnt.

The Department of Home Affairs’s Maitland Refugee Reception office has met with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and announced that it received a 30 day notice from an undisclosed landlord for the cessation of the Cape Town reception centre lease by the end of May.

Scalabrini, Black Sash and Passop, the CSOs, are concerned that the imminent closure of the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office is going to disturb the refugees and asylum seekers who would have to be relocated, and blamed the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) for the development.

“We find it very worrying that the Department is systematically trying to close down refugee reception offices without putting any infrastructure in place to deal with new or existing applicants living in and dependent on the support available in metropolitan areas,’’ said Nyembezi Nkosikhulule of Black Sash..

In May 2010, the South African High Court ruled in favour of the eviction of the Maitland Reception Office residents after local businesses complained that the office constituted a public nuisance.

Miranda Madikane of Scalabrini Centre lashed out at DHA for failing to commit to issues relating to refugees.

“It is a disgrace that already traumatised people should be treated with such disregard. To close an office suddenly, and without proper notice or consultation, shows a complete lack of compassion and respect for the basic rights of our most vulnerable members of society,” said Madikane.

PASSOP’s Braam Hanekom urged DHA to engage their legal teams to instantly stop the impending closure of the centre.

“We request the Department of Home Affairs to urgently explore all the viable legal options in order to guarantee the continuation of the services provided by the Maitland Refugee Office.

‘‘A sudden closure of the Cape Town Refugee Reception Centre would have enormous and unpredictable repercussions on those refugees and asylum seekers who access the office on a daily basis,” Hanekom said.

However, Legal Resource Centre, a non-profit organisation providing legal services to vulnerable community members, has expressed their willingness to provide help in negotiating with the landlord and opposing the eviction of the Reception Office.

“An immediate solution needs to be found and we call upon the DHA to adhere to their legal obligations to properly document refugees and asylum seekers. The state has a moral and legal duty to uphold the Constitutional right of everyone, including refugees, to administrative justice,” said the organisation.

South Africa holds around 1.5 million Zimbabweans who fled political-economic crisis in the last decade, and a substantial number of these refugees and asylum seekers are held in reception centres.

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