SA lags in giving refugees asylum status

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

South Africa is lagging behind in processing applications of asylum-seekers.

Between 2000 and last year only 30200 applicants out of 200000 applicants were granted asylum.

This is one of the shocking findings outlined in a report released in June by the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, which includes members from Lawyers for Human Rights, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the Coordinating Body of Refugee Communities.

The report also highlights violations of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees by various government departments and citizens.

The most widely reported of these violations is violence against foreigners resulting from xenophobia, which "hampers" the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

Refugees and asylum seekers are "disproportionately victims of criminal activity and abuse - both physical and psychological - at the hands of criminals, police, employers, and South African citizens".

The migration of foreigners into the country illustrates South Africa's desirability as a "primary destination and point of transit for people across the African continent and beyond", argues the report.

Despite the Department of Home Affairs' denial of the prevalence of asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, the report says "by far the greatest number of those who sought asylum in 2006, more than 18000 of the new applicants were from Zimbabwe, with others coming from the DRC, Somalia, elsewhere on the African continent and South Asia."

Some of the concerns expressed in the report include:

l Access to the asylum process and status determination is often hampered by poor communication between Home Affairs and security services. This results in the transgression of migrants' rights;

l Refugee protection is only available to those who can afford to pay bribes extorted by officials;

l Refugee status determination is often made without adequate information because officials have little understanding of the law and related processes;

l Delays in the processing of asylum applications which impact negatively on the applicants' livelihood;

l The issuing of faulty documents;

l The susceptibility of documents to abuse and corruption;

l Regular illegal arrests of asylum seekers despite having valid documents; and

l Exclusion of migrants from accessing social services such as antiretroviral therapy, treatment at hospitals, clinics, housing and education because of fee exemptions, language differences and outright discrimination.