SW Radio Africa (London)
24 January 2012
South Africa is facing criticism for appearing to be actively preventing asylum seekers from seeking protection in the country, with policies that are in contravention of the country own Refugees Act.
According to the Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) group, a recent policy change has made it mandatory for new applicants for asylum to produce an 'Asylum Transit Permit' when they submit an application for asylum at refugee reception offices, located in Musina, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.
These permits, despite not being part of the Refugees Act, are meant to be made available at the border.
But the LHR has found that this Permit is not being issued at the main point of entry at Beitbridge, potentially leaving hundreds of Zimbabweans at risk of arrest and deportation.
According to Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh of the LHR's Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme, "immigration at Beitbridge have taken a decision not to issue this permit to newly arrived asylum seekers, yet the Refugee Reception Offices around the country continue to demand this document before they will allow access."
Ramjathan-Keogh also told SW Radio Africa that police road blocks are being set up in the Limpopo Province to screen the immigration status of all foreigners travelling out of Limpopo, the province most asylum seekers have to travel through if they've come through the Musina border. Ramjathan Keogh said that the police are arresting people who may be trying to seek protection as asylum seekers. These persons are then being summarily deported.
"Home Affairs is actively refusing entry to asylum seekers and removing any persons who have been unable to lodge asylum applications on entry. Their policy is directed at exclusion rather than protection which flies in the face of South Africa's international commitments to protect refugees," Ramjathan-Keogh said.
She added: "Corruption, lack of understanding of the law and basic xenophobic attitudes by some government officials at the border post prevent those seeking asylum and international protection in South Africa from starting the process to apply for asylum,"
"These methods seem to be used by the Department to reduce the number of asylum applications while not dealing with the systemic problems of corruption and inefficiency within immigration and asylum services at the ports of entry."
Meanwhile the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants (CoRMSA) has also raised concerns about the South African government denying foreigners their rights to asylum.
CoRMSA said in a statement that they have witnessed "some of the most heartbreaking and inhumane treatments of asylum seekers outside the Department of Home Affairs Refugee Reception Office in Marabastad, Pretoria."
CoRMSA quoted a person trying to gain access to the refugee reception office, with the group saying in a statement that the quote "is an illustration of the impact of a new shift in government policy on asylum seekers in South Africa."
The quote says: "They used to take about 100 newcomers a day, but now they turn everyone away, it doesn't matter what nationality you are, so fewer people are coming. Too many people just stay at home without legal permits... When people come with letters from Lawyers for Human Rights, they just tear them up. Newcomers have no access..."
CoRMSA also echoed the concerns made by the LHR regarding the Transit Permit, stating that "the practise requiring that asylum seekers be in possession of this transit permit in order to gain access to the asylum process is in itself unlawful."
"Results of this practise are that asylum seekers are unable to receive protection and are vulnerable to arrest, detention and deportation to countries of origin where they may face persecution or death," CoRMSA said.
"CoRMSA demands that there be clarity on the government's policy with regards to asylum seekers and that the rights of these vulnerable persons be protected and defended," the group said.
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