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Home Affairs faces legal action after failing to re-open Cape Town refugee office

The department of home affairs is facing further legal action to re-open the Cape Town refugee reception office to alleviate the plight of thousands of newcomer asylum seekers.

For the past six years, Cape-based asylum seekers have travelled at least twice a year to Refugee Reception Offices in Pretoria, Durban and Musina to receive proper documentation, putting their jobs and monetary resources at risk.

“We are planning on taking action… and [we] will respond to their disregard for the court,” says Miranda Madikane, Director of the Scalabrini Centre, a non-profit organisation focused on migrants’ rights.

This after the department ignored a court order issued in September last year instructing it to “re-open and maintain a fully functional refugee reception office in or around the Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality” by March 31 2018 and communicate to the appellate each month to describe “what steps have been taken and what progress has been made to ensure compliance with the aforesaid order”.

Since the expiry of the deadline there has been little word from the department on the re-opening of the building, according to Madikane.

Although the building is open for renewal permits for asylum seekers who registered at the Cape Town office prior to its closure in June 2012, it remains uncertain if or when the building will reopen to new applicants, leaving many undocumented migrants and their advocates uneasy. Popo Mfubu, an attorney at the Refugee Rights Unit at the University of Cape Town, believes it is unacceptable that the department is not adhering to the court order. “Living in a democratic society where the rule of the law must be accepted, we should not be existing in this territory where we don’t know when a court order will be complied with,” Mfubu said, “That for me, is what I find rather alarming.”

The Scalabrini Centre is disappointed with the department’s unwillingness to comply. “It feels the way home affairs is managing the asylum system is anti-protection,” said Madikane.

Multiple human rights organisations have partnered to hold advocacy initiatives to increase awareness of the cause. Most recently, on April 6, the non-profit organisation Sonke Gender Justice held a self-titled “exaggerated” celebration near the Cape Town Refugee Centre to highlight what advocates and asylum seekers want at these centres.

Although there is no definitive figure of how many asylum seekers there are in Cape Town, the court order reported that “the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office was the second busiest in the country.” According to the order, there were nearly 6 000 new asylum seeker applicants in the first half of 2012.

The department’s apparent defiance of the court order leads Mfubu to question the authority of the courts, “The courts are our last line of defence. If the state does not comply it puts us in a very dangerous and unlawful territory.”

The department of home affairs was not available for comment.

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