SA no longer asylum favourite

20 June 2013 - 03:51 By NIVASHNI NAIR
Violence erupts outside a Home Affairs office as asylum applicants wait for the documentation that will regularise their presence in South Africa
Violence erupts outside a Home Affairs office as asylum applicants wait for the documentation that will regularise their presence in South Africa
Image: SHELLEY CHRISTIANS

South Africa is no longer the world's most popular destination for asylum seekers.

The UN Refugee Agency "Global Trends 2012" report, which was released yesterday, revealed that the number of people asking for asylum in South Africa dropped by almost half last year compared to 2011.

"[The] Department of Home Affairs reported 61500 new asylum applications in 2012, 45400 less than in 2011. Asylum levels have gradually dropped from the 2009 peak of 222300 claims," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees report said.

But this country has more unprocessed asylum applications than any other, with 230442 applications dating back to 2008.

"Between 2008 and 2012, South Africa registered 778600 new asylum applications, with Zimbabweans accounting for more than half of all claims submitted - close to half a million asylum applications," the report said.

Most of the new applications, 17200, came from Zimbabweans .

Tina Ghelli, the UN High Commission's spokesman for Southern Africa, said the decrease in applications for asylum in South Africa could be attributed to relative stability in Zimbabwe and security measures taken by other African countries.

"The peak we saw over the past few years was a result of instability in Zimbabwe and that is evidenced by the number of Zimbabweans that sought asylum in South Africa.

"The cumulative figure of more than 230000 pending cases is not startling - there are many countries that have similar backlogs," she said.

Ghelli said the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 6000 applications, was the country with the second-highest number of asylum applications.

Somalia (4700) and Ethiopia (2000) were third and fourth.

Ghelli said South Africa attracted asylum seekers because they had the chance to become self-reliant and were not forced to live in refugee camps.

A 2005 court ruling gave asylum seekers the right to work while their applications were pending.

But Rampe Hlobo, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, which operates in Gauteng and Limpopo, said hundreds of asylum seekers lived in "limbo".

He said companies were reluctant to employ workers whose permits would soon expire and banks demanded documentation asylum seekers lacked before they would open accounts.

"These are challenges that asylum seekers face, and not knowing if their applications will be approved means that they live in limbo," Hlobo said.

He urged Home Affairs to train its officials to deal with applications swiftly.

"Corruption is also partly to blame for the backlog.

"Officials need to understand that they are dealing with people's lives."

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