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Bill proposes changes to handling of refugees

by BuaNews Online
on 19 Oct 2010
BuaNews Online
BuaNews Online

Government plans to overhaul its Refugee Amendment Act to protect real refugees who may have been compromised by those who abused the applications process for refugee status.

Briefing journalists in Parliament, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba said today the Refugee Amendment Bill would rectify technical problems that appeared in the 2008 Refugees Amendment Act.

The proposed amendments include replacing officers that make determination on a person's refugee status with a committee; decentralising the Appeals Board; allowing children born to asylum seekers to be registered in terms of the Births and Deaths Registration Act and allowing the minister to extend indefinitely an individual refugee's status.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 42 000 refugees in South Africa, but Gigaba said that currently there were more than 100 000 applications for asylum.

He said many individuals applying for asylum were economic migrants who knew they would not qualify for refugee status under the Refugees Act, but applied anyway, lodging an appeal when their application was turned down.

A huge backlog of "hundreds of cases" meant it would be months before an appeal was heard.

"We are chasing people who have no bona fide case, who know that they are abusing the system until we can close all the loopholes. There are serious challenges with this, as it impacts on rights of bona fide asylum seekers," Gigaba said.

The Bill proposes changes which would allow Appeals Board members to review appeal applications from written transcripts, rather than dealing with individuals who sometimes do not pitch on their appeal dates.

The review process would also be decentralised to allow each of the seven refugee centres to set up their own appeals boards to review cases lodged at their respective centres.

In a bid to make determinations on an applicant's asylum status fairer, a committee would replace individual officers, who have up until now presided over the initial determinations of an applicant's status.

Gigaba said children of refugees would assume the citizenship of the parents, but added that when they turned 18 they could apply for citizenship if they can show that they are stateless.

He said allowing those born to asylum seekers in the country to assume South African citizenship would create a crisis, as it would encourage people to come to South Africa to give birth here.

"We are not discriminating against children of refugees. We are managing refugee processes to avoid a crisis, not only for Home Affairs, but for South Africa as a whole," he said.

Under the new amendment, the Minister of Home Affairs - and not the Director
General - would have the responsibility of withdrawing the refugee status of an individual, particularly if that person was involved in crime.

Gigaba said people had been taking advantage of the generosity of South Africa's refugee application system, because the Refugees Act stated that everyone must be allowed a fair chance to state their case for being granted refugee status.

He said even the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had admitted that South Africa had "one of the most generous systems in the world, if not the most generous."

More substantive amendments, such as separating asylum seekers from economic migrants, will be dealt with at later stage. - BuaNews

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