South Africa


Huge number of refugee documents set to expire soon

Concerns are growing about the number of refugees’ and asylum seekers’ documents expiring at the end of October. The Department of Home Affairs has not said how it intends dealing with the disruption caused by Covid-19, insofar as this paperwork is concerned.

First published by GroundUp.

The Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town has written to home affairs asking for the department’s plan regarding documents held by refugees that are on the point of expiring.

“We have not seen the plan. We are hopeful that the department will make it public,” said Sally Gandar, head of advocacy and legal advisor at Scalabrini Centre.

Scalabrini hopes the plan will include longer renewal periods for asylum documentation. It also wants an online renewal system and for people to be allowed to renew their documentation at the refugee reception office nearest to where they live.

Gandar said, “The minister indicated in a parliamentary reply that on 1 January 2020, there were 188,296 active asylum files on home affairs systems, and in a further parliamentary reply that there were 80,758 refugees with active Section 24 certificates recorded on the National Immigration Information System (NIIS). 

“All of these people are affected by the current situation, though in varying ways.” (Section 24 certificates allow asylum seekers to stay in the country for two years.)

Gandar confirmed that home affairs provided for an automatic renewal of documentation for refugees during lockdown. “The directions gazetted by home affairs on 10 June provided for a deemed extension of all documentation issued in terms of the Refugees Act (this includes asylum seeker documents and refugee documents) until 31 July.

“Home affairs gazetted further directions on 31 July which provided for a deemed extension of all documentation until 31 October 2020. These directions are presently in force,” she said.

“The directions state that after the deemed extension date, asylum and refugee document holders will have a month in which to renew their documentation. 

“The impact will likely be that the refugee reception offices across the country will need to expect and plan for high numbers of people coming to renew their documentation within that time frame.”

Despite home affairs’ announcements, refugees and asylum seekers have been struggling to access services during lockdown. They have faced difficulties with banks blocking their accounts, hospitals refusing to treat them and schools refusing to enrol their children. They have also encountered difficulties while applying for unemployment insurance.

A refugee from Eastern Congo, who arrived in Cape Town in 2006 and has two children born in South Africa, said that his asylum document expired during lockdown. He also lost his job during this period. He said he went to the labour department in Bellville to apply for UIF, but was told that his document was not valid. He is struggling to pay school fees, buy groceries and pay rent.

“Nobody would like to employ me with an expired document. Not having proper documents also affects my children’s future. I am struggling to register my Grade 7 child for high school,” he said.

Questions were sent to home affairs spokesperson Siyabulela Qoza and media manager David Hlabane, but no response has been received.DM


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  • “Questions were sent to home affairs spokesperson Siyabulela Qoza and media manager David Hlabane, but no response has been received”.

    Good luck with that. I have been trying to get an unabridged birth certificate for longer than a year. Seriously. For a simple piece of paper.

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