SA wants review of Canada refugee case

South Africa wants a judicial review of a decision by an independent Canadian board to grant a white South African refugee status because he allegedly suffered racist attacks at home, a government minister said on Wednesday.

The decision by the Canadian immigration board to grant Brandon Huntley residence on the grounds that he was persecuted for being white was widely condemned in South Africa, where race remains a sensitive issue 15 years after apartheid ended.

“We are of the view ... that the relevant minister in Canada has the ability to do a judicial review and that this should be undertaken and the South African government will be urging the Canadian government to do so,” Sue van der Merwe, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, told Parliament.

In London, a senior member of the African National Congress expressed doubt that a white South African could have suffered such racist attacks in his home country.

Thandi Modise, deputy secretary general of the ANC, said it would have been better if the Canadian government had tried to find out whether it was true that Huntley had been attacked seven times as he said.

She said that while South Africa had a high crime rate, racial attacks were rare.

“I think it might have been a little better for the Canadian government to see whether or not it is true that any South African gets attacked seven times,” she told Reuters in an interview during a visit to London.

“It might have been helpful for the individual concerned to have really sought a different excuse to get asylum into Canada,” she said.

“I don’t know what went on here, but I have my doubts whether racism and racist attacks on a white individual in South Africa would be the case, because our experience is that it happens the other way round in our country.”

The ANC has called the immigration board’s decision racist, after Huntley gave evidence that he would be “persecuted” by black Africans because he was white.

The government says it has damaged the country’s image.

“We do believe that, as I said, the grounds on which this board took this decision are not correct,” Van der Merwe said.

She questioned why South Africa’s High Commissioner in Ottawa was not informed and consulted on the matter before a decision was taken.

“We think this shows a lack of familiarisation with the facts and realities of South Africa society,” she said.

South Africa is still scarred by decades of institutionalised racial division and race remains a raw topic in the new democracy.

Whites continue to dominate Africa’s biggest economy, but say the government’s affirmative action policies amount to reverse discrimination as the state intervenes to empower more of the black majority.

‘Deep and mutually beneficial relationship’
Meanwhile, Canada’s government distanced itself on Wednesday from the independent refugee tribunal’s controversial decision granting Huntley asylum.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department said in a statement it “respects the independence” of the Immigration and Refugee Board and its decision to grant the Cape Town-born Huntley (31) refugee status.

It added: “The Immigration and Refugee Board operates at arm’s length from the Canadian government and its decision-makers are not subject to outside influence, making decisions solely on the basis of evidence presented at the refugee hearing.”

Ottawa said it “recognises the achievements of the government of South Africa in promoting a tolerant, multiracial society.”

Canada and South Africa enjoy a “deep and mutually beneficial relationship” it said, and added that “the tribunal’s decisions are independent from the views of the Canadian government”.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board said privacy laws prevented them from commenting on the case.

“We cannot comment on refugee claims. This type of claim is heard in private,” spokesperson Stephane said.—Reuters, AFP

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