South African Refugee Amendment Act and its Impact

On the 29th January 2020, Africa Unite (AU) in partnership with Legal Resources Centre (LRC) hosted a Refugee Amendment Act Dialogue with 41 participants. Majority of the participants were asylum seekers and refugee leaders, the information session took place at 6 Spin Street, Cape Town.

From the 1st January 2020, the refugee amendment act was officially brought into operation. The amendment brought serious fear and concern among refugees, asylum seekers and civil society.  Some of the civil society mentioned that the changes seem like they have been drafted by Trump administration and taking us back. Furthermore, this amendment comes at a time where refugees and asylum seeker’s systems are in crisis. From November 2019 up to now, there is a group of refugees and asylum seekers camping outside the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Pretoria and Cape Town.  Most of them want to leave South Africa, even others are prepared to walk by foot to Namibia.

During her presentation, Sherylle Dass: Regional Director of Legal Resources Centre had an opportunity to show at length the areas of grave concern regarding the amendment act. Below are some of the concerns:

  • Asylum seekers and Refugees are not allowed to be involved in politics in South Africa and their country of origin.
  • They are not allowed to request any document from their country of origin’s embassy.
  • On arrival to South Africa, they are obliged to show asylum transit visa issued at a port of entry or under permitted circumstances, a valid visa otherwise they may be sent back against the international principle of “non- refoulement”, if Home Affairs is not satisfied with their reasons for entering the country illegally.
  • Prior to issuing any right to seek employment to any asylum seeker, an assessment of whether an asylum seeker can sustain himself or herself and any dependents must be done.
  • In the event that the right to seek employment or study is endorsed on the asylum seeker visa, the relevant employer must furnish the Department of Home Affairs with a letter of employment or of enrollment at the educational institution in the prescribed form within a period of 14 days from the date of the asylum seeker taking up employment or being enrolled.
  • After they have qualified for a refugee status, they must reside in the country for 10 Years before they are considered for permanent residency permit.
  • If they do not renew their papers on time within 30 days from the date it expired, their asylum applications will be deemed to be abandoned and they will be excluded from applying for asylum

                                            Sherylle speaking to the audience

Her presentation raised eyebrows amongst the audience. Majority of the leaders present asked a lot of questions regarding the implications of this amendment on the livelihood of the refugees and asylum seekers living in South Africa. They also requested for Legal Resources Centre to open a case against Government in order to challenge these amendments. However, Sherylle replied that although there are many grounds to do that, most of the amendments will be dependent on how Home Affairs will implement these provisions. In this case the LRC will have to assess individual cases and may challenge the implementation of these amendments by presenting the best evidence before the courts on the practical implications of these amendments.

                                   pic 3 Refugee amendment act                                 One of the participants asking questions

As Africa Unite, from now onwards, we will start to collect the individual cases of the people affected by this law so that those cases can be taken to Legal Resources Centre for Legal Representation against the Amendment Act as most of the amendments are undermining human dignity.

All the participants were thankful to Africa Unite and Legal Resources Centre for hosting this information session as they were able to hear directly from the horse’s mouth.

In addition, Africa Unite together with Legal Resource Centre has agreed to host more of these information sessions in different communities (townships) to raise awareness as more asylum seekers and refugees will be affected by this regulation.

For more information please contact Nthati on 076 460 4331|


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