Reopen Cape Town refugee centre‚ appeal court orders home affairs
Home affairs has been ordered to open a refugee office in Cape Town by March 2018.
The Supreme Court of Appeal said on Friday that the decision to close the office in 2012 was irrational and unlawful.
In its judgment‚ the SCA said the director-general of home affairs had ignored relevant factors when deciding on the closure‚ adding that the level of demand for the office’s services — obvious from the backlog — must be considered.
“He also failed to properly consider whether the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office was necessary for the purposes of the [Refugees] Act‚” said the judgment‚ adding that there was no merit in home affairs’ arguments about difficulties finding premises and the need for “substantial additional resources”.
The SCA also referred to the international obligations of home affairs in providing opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers to exercise their rights.
Miranda Madikane‚ director of the Scalabrini Centre — which spearheaded the appeal against an earlier decision of the High Court in Cape Town — said the judgment was “crucial” in upholding the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.
“The ability of asylum seekers to access refugee reception offices to apply for permits and to support themselves and their family‚ as well as integrate into their community while their asylum applications are processed‚ is critically important if an asylum seeker is to enjoy their human rights‚” she said.
“Since this unlawful closure in 2012‚ asylum seekers have struggled immensely in accessing the most basic services‚ with grave consequences. The closure has meant asylum seekers and their families must travel long distances to the remaining three [offices‚ in Pretoria‚ Durban and Musina] every three to six months while they wait for their claims to be processed‚ which takes many years including appeals.
“This results in many asylum seekers being unable to keep their documentation valid.”
The Legal Resources Centre lodged the appeal on behalf of the Scalabrini Centre‚ the Somali Association for South Africa and asylum seekers. Home affairs has to give the Supreme Court regular updates about its progress towards reopening the Cape Town office by March.