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Khulumani calls for Justice for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers in Johannesburg

Khulumani expresses deep concern at news of the closure by the Department of Home Affairs of its Crown Mines Refugee Reception Centre in Johannesburg and its potential impact on some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

On May 31, 2011, CoRMSA, the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa alerted South African Civil Society that the Department of Home Affairs had decided to close down the only Refugee Reception Centre in Johannesburg. The decision comes after a court application by Crown Mines business people who argued that it was a civil nuisance to businesses in the area.

The effect of the court decision is that the Department of Home Affairs is closing the only centre in Johannesburg where asylum seekers and refugees can apply for asylum. All asylum applicants are now being redirected to Pretoria. Although the DHA was aware of the potential outcome of the pending judgment in the case, it failed to put contingency plans in place. The present situation will create enormous additional costs for some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

The outcome of the case is very disappointing because the DHA failed to argue strongly for the rights of asylum seekers to receive services in proximity to the areas in which they reside. Spokesperson for the DHA, Mr Ronnie Marule, confirmed that his Department would not be appealing the court decision. The judgment sets a bad precedent for government and local authorities in handling lease applications for service delivery to marginalised groups.

The previous move of the DHA Refugee Reception Centre to Crown Mines from Rosettenville created administrative nightmares for refuges and asylum-seekers. The DHA lost or misplaced many applicant documents in that move and asked many asylum-seekers to lodge fresh applications. When missing documents were found, affected applicants were then charged with fraud for having duplicate applications in the asylum process.

Sicel'mpilo Shange-Buthane, Director of the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CORMSA) says, "It is unacceptable that poor and marginalised refugees will have to travel to Pretoria, at great personal cost, to receive permit extensions and other services. Besides the economic hardships (this will cause) this decision means that refugees will face serious administrative difficulties because of their files being relocated." The DHA has previously been sued for administrative failures in handling asylum applications.

Khulumani joins CoRMSA in calling on the DHA to provide clear and proper guidelines on transitional arrangements to all stakeholders and to advertise them widely. It joins CoRMSA in calling on the Department to urgently find appropriate premises for a refugee reception office in Johannesburg, an area which serves the greatest number of asylum seekers and refugees in the country.a

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