364,638 applications for asylum in 2009/2010 - DA
Refugee applications: Refugees wait up to 4 years for answers from Home Affairs
The Democratic Alliance (DA) will be writing to the Chairperson of the Home Affairs portfolio committee, requesting that the Minister appear before the committee to detail what measures she plans to put in place to address the inadequate capacity of her department to address the refugee influx. This is in light of the proposed Refugees Amendment Bill which we believe will not address the substantive problems that affect refugee applications which are currently taking up to 4 years to finalize. This is an ominous trend considering that according to the latest UN Refugee Agency Global Report, released in June 2010, South Africa continues to be the country that receives the largest number of asylum applications in the world, with 222 000 applications submitted in 2009 alone.
All asylum seekers have to apply for an asylum seeker's permit (known as a section 22 permit) at one of only five Refugee Reception Centres in South Africa. They then have to return for an interview by a Status Determination Officer. Getting an interview can take up to a year. If this interview is successful, asylum is granted, and a certificate to this effect is issued. The certificate is valid for two years. Those granted asylum then have to apply for a refugee identity document. These documents are taking up to two years to issue.
If the interview is not successful, and the application is found to be "manifestly unfounded, abusive or fraudulent", the decision must be reviewed by the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs. If the decision is not successful on the grounds that it is "unfounded", the applicant may appeal to the Refugee Appeal Board. It is currently taking up to two years to secure a date for an appeal hearing, and a further two years to secure a decision after the hearing has been conducted.
This is not surprising, given the following figures from the 2009/10 financial year :
· 364 638 applications for asylum were received
· 9000 applications were approved
· 131 961 applications were rejected
· Thus, 223 677 (or 61% of the applications) were not processed within the year
The Standing Committee on Refugees considered 26 389 cases. This leaves a balance of 105 572 cases rejected as being "unfounded", with appeals to be considered by the Refugee Appeal Board. The chairperson of the Refugee Appeal Board told Parliament, in 2008, that 80% of applicants denied asylum utilise the appeal route. Thus, during the last year, approximately 84 460 applicants would have lodged an appeal. The Refugee Appeal Board considered only 3498 appeals during this period, or 4% of the appeals lodged. (Most assessments by regional offices have been described as of such poor quality that they necessitated the Appeal Board starting the application interview afresh, thus prolonging the process.)
Couple this with what has been described by refugee lawyer, Fatima Khan, as a "massive, massive backlog" prior to 2009/10, and the fact that only four people are available to travel to centres around South Africa to hear the appeals.
This situation is unsustainable. Most refugees are never, in fact, granted refugee status. However, until they are finally told this, refugees face protracted periods of uncertainty coupled with manifold problems, including, inter alia, no access to banking facilities and difficulty in obtaining employment.
The Minister of Home Affairs has introduced the Refugees Amendment Bill to Parliament, which will be debated over the coming weeks. The DA has serious doubts as to whether the Bill and the coming-into-force of the Refugees Amendment Act of 2008 will make any meaningful difference to the current situation, and, in fact, whether the drafters of the Bill have truly applied their minds to addressing the situation in a practicable manner. The following examples serve to illustrate this point :
1. Asylum applications will no longer be considered by individuals but by Status Determination Committees at each Refugee Reception Centre. In theory, this is laudable - the potential for corruption should be reduced, and the quality of assessments should improve. However, this certainly implies a large increase in the number of trained and competent staff. Current trends cast doubt as to whether the Department will be able to provide such capacity.
2. Applications found to be "manifestly unfounded" will be adjudicated by the Director-General and not by a Standing Committee. This will only work with a proper system of delegation to properly trained and competent officials.
3. Appeals against applications determined to be "unfounded" applications will be dealt with by a Refugee Appeals Authority and not by a Board. The Authority is substantially the same as the existing Board. Quite how a new name for a body will change the situation is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the requirement that the chairperson of the Authority must attend every hearing will only serve to lengthen, and not expedite, the process. This Authority must be staffed according to the existing and projected need if it is to make any meaningful impact.
The Minister needs to urgently address these issues, which include: staff complement, the need to increase the number of Refugee Reception Centres, the monitoring of performance within her department and, in conjunction with the security services, address the porosity of our borders.
The DA will be arguing these and other points during the coming weeks of deliberation on the Bill, and will be requesting that the Minister appear before the committee to detail interim measures to address this issue. We believe in the dignity to which refugees are entitled.
Statement by Annette Lovemore, MP, Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, October 14 2010
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