After a month of turning away new applications for asylum, Cape Town’s Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in Maitland is now again accepting ‘newcomers’ without section 23 permits (commonly referred to as ‘border passes’).
These section 23 permits are meant to be given to asylum seekers at border posts on entry giving them 14 days to report to an RRO. However, not every border post issues the permits and those who cross the border irregularly have no means of acquiring one.
The Scalabrini Centre first became aware of the issue in October 2010 and then again in February 2011 and supported Legal Resources Centre’s (LRC) challenge of the practice as unlawful in the Western Cape High Court. The practice is unlawful in terms of the Refugee’s Act and it contravenes South Africa’s international legal obligations to asylum seekers. The Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) response was to deny the practice was official policy and DHA has subsequently started receiving all newcomers regardless of whether they were in possession of a ‘border pass’ or not. Scalabrini Centre applauds the excellent work of LRC.
In February 2012, the Scalabrini Centre participated in a national RRO monitoring project which resulted in the Maitland RRO being monitored three days per week (see the February Scalabrini newsletter for more details about the project). Monitors observed that large numbers of newcomers without border passes were being turned away repeatedly. The resumption of this unlawful practice again led to an increase in corruption, with a greater demand for fake permits as asylum seekers tried to legalise their stay. The difficulties experienced by asylum seekers in this situation are huge, especially as they are unable to legally work to provide for their families without documentation.
The RRO monitors were able to confirm the resumption of the unlawful practice for the LRC who were then able to approach the High Court. The DHA again denied the practice is official policy and the State’s Attorney responded on 1 March 2012 that no such policy exists and that all RRO managers would be informed to accept all applicants without border pass permits. Since then the Scalabrini Centre has not heard any reports of newcomers being turned away but will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the rights of asylum seekers are respected.