SA govt stands firm on refugee centre

The South African government has continued to defy a court order for it to re-open the Cape Town Refugee reception office.

A long queue at SA home affairs office in  Cape Town.
A long queue at SA home affairs office in Cape Town.

In 2012, the Department of Home Affairs took the decision to stop processing new applicants at the Cape Town refugee reception office, resulting in asylum seekers having to travel long distances to be documented and renew their permits.

However, the Western Cape High Court, on August 30, 2012, ordered that the office be re-opened to serve new applicants. Reports this week were that hundreds of asylum seekers were still being turned away, including those who originally got their asylum permits at centres outside Cape Town, but now live in Cape Town.

Even when the Supreme Court last month upheld the same order, the DHA indicated it would not immediately comply with the order. Mkhuseli Apleni, Director-general of the Department of Home Affairs, said compliance would follow wide consultations, which he said this week were still on-going, and hinted the centre might not be re-opened.

“The Supreme Court agreed with us that the Director-General must be given an opportunity to take that decision. What will have to happen between now and the end of November is consultations with all the affected parties and we need to first agree on the way forward. We will then make the decision on whether to open the office in Cape Town or not,” said Apleni.

“The decision of the department to close this centre was taken after careful consideration of all relevant factors, which included but was not limited to a series of court challenges as well as complaints lodged by business communities. The complaints related mostly to nuisance caused by asylum seekers and refugees attending the Centre.

“Furthermore, the department, despite best efforts could not secure suitable alternative space to accommodate the Centre around Cape Town. The Supreme Court of Appeal, although dismissing the department’s appeal, made a fundamental finding in favour of the Department. The SCA set aside the decision of the Western Cape High Court ordering the Department to open the Centre to new asylum seekers.”

Apleni maintained his earlier statement that the matter of importance to the department was the necessity to speedily implement the court order relating to taking a fresh decision on whether or not to close the centre.

Zimbabweans, who dominate South Africa’s refugee population, recently celebrated a court order for the host country to re-open the Cape Town Refugee Centre.

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