Refugees hope the end of state of disaster will ease their problems with Home Affairs

A light at the end of the tunnel has come into view for refugees and asylum seekers struggling with the online extension. African News Agency (ANA)

A light at the end of the tunnel has come into view for refugees and asylum seekers struggling with the online extension. African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 16, 2022


Cape Town - The termination of the National State of Disaster is a light at the end of the tunnel for refugees and asylum seekers struggling with the online extension system implemented by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

Following the president’s announcement of the end of the national state of disaster last week, head of strategic litigation and advocacy at the UCT Refugee Rights clinic Sally Gandar said this was good news for refugees and asylum seekers as the termination would enable refugee reception offices (RROs) across the country to promptly resume the full services that were on halt for the past two years.

Despite the online renewal system that enabled refugees and asylum seekers to renew their documentation, the UCT Refugee Rights Clinic continued to see individuals on a daily basis who were experiencing issues with the system.

The lack of a full range of services at RROs across the country became a concern as no new asylum applications were able to be lodged during that period, as well as services for those whose documentation expired prior to the national state of disaster being declared. This created barriers for those trying to access rights and services such as accessing bank accounts, traffic/vehicle registration services and in some incidences, employers insisted on a renewed document in order for the individual to continue working.

With various challenges experienced, refugee status holder Alfonse Ilunga said till this day, he is waiting for DHA to get back to him on his request for renewal.

“I sent my application for renewal since November last year and till this day, I’ve yet to receive a response. This has been a tough time for me at my family because my boss let me go in January this year due to this. In order to make some sort of money, I turned to the e-haling business in order to put some food on the table.

“I know and understand that we are not South Africans, and to be quite honest, I know we will never be treated with the same dignity as a citizen, however I think it is important to understand and remember that we are all Africans first before we are anything else. Such nonchalant efforts to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are legalised in the country gives birth to the man xenophobic fears and attacks we saw last week. This creates several issues and it feeds into the notion that there are several undocumented regress in South Africa, when the truth is, the people who suppose to give us the documentation that we need are staring at our emails, plea, outcry and complaints and are not addressing it.”

“I really hope that the termination the national state of disaster can bear fruit, and that there could be a light at the end of tunnel for various of refugees and asylum seekers who are trying to make an honest living in South Africa,” said Ilunga.

Gandar said: “We welcome the termination of the national state of disaster by the president, and hope that it will mean that all refugee reception centres across the country promptly resume a full suite of services as were offered prior to the declaration of the national state of disaster more than two years ago. This will go a long way to ensuring that asylum seekers and refugees can access effective protection and documentation in South Africa – which the SA government should be providing in terms of international law. We note that the civic services Home Affairs offices have been open to in-person services and mostly offer all services and have done so for many months even during the lockdown.It may also be prudent for the department to offer additional services or longer hours initially, as there may be some backlogs as a result of the closure of the offices for over two years.

“As there is likely a backlog in respect of new applicants as well as other services, we believe additional capacity and additional hours of service would be a useful way to start assisting persons who need services at RROs. We are aware that sometimes this could result in a systems overload at the Department – as has also been the case with civic Home Affairs at times – and so if there is a way to ensure that the systems are always online and or that there is a formal an official document that can be issued immediately to persons seeking assistance at RROs, while waiting for other processes to take place, we would highly recommend that such contingency measures are implemented.”

“In addition, the department needs to communicate broadly and effectively to all government and other stakeholders, including the general public, that there is a backlog which has resulted in people not having access to documentation or renewal services and such persons should not be penalised or arrested for this. The department should also communicated progress regularly so that all stakeholders are aware of the backlog and the department’s efforts to ensure those in such backlogs are assisted efficiently and effectively,” said Gandar.

While the department has not yet set a date on the reopening of the the RROs, spokesperson for Minister of Home Affairs Siya Qoza said that efforts are being made to resume full services.

“The DHA started with plans to resume full services at the Refugee Reception Centres before the president’s announcement.”

“At the heart of planning are the efforts to avoid overcrowding and stampede on the first few days, a careful approach is required to protect the clients. Once all necessary preparations are made, the department will communicate with the clients,” said Qoza.

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