Cape Town Refugee Centre remains closed

Asylum seekers queuing outside the Foreshore offices of Home Affairs. Many new applicants were expecting to be processed, but they were turned away. Photo: Tariro Washinyira/GroundUp

Organisations that work with refugees and asylum seekers in Cape Town are concerned that the Refugee Centre remains closed despite a court ruling that it be opened.

Cape Town Refugee Centre, Wynberg, Cape Town, South Africa

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town (SCCT), Somali Association of South Africa (SASA) and United Family (Unifam)  remain deeply concerned about what they referred to as a misleading statement made by Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

This statement by the DHA followed its failure to open the Cape Town Refugee Reception Centre on 31 March 2018 as ordered by a Western Cape High Court ruling last year.

The 17 April 2018 statement reads, “We have thus begun to comply with the court order and the department has no intention disregarding  the judicial directive and we will duly respect the judgement. In this regard we have commenced with plans to comply with the order. The department is dependent on Public Works to provide suitable office accommodation.”

Scalabrini and SASA respond, “By flouting the deadlines set by the court, the DHA cannot claim to uphold its constitutional obligation to those in need of protection from any form of persecution. The department has crippled the asylum system.”

Unifam another organisation that works with refugees and asylum seekers says, “We regret to note that the DHA has not complied with the court ruling and use the Public Works Department as an excuse for the delay.”

Elitsha spoke to some first-time asylum seekers.

“I came to South Africa in 2015 to join my brother. Since that time I have made  several attempts applying for an asylum to no avail,” says Okra (preferring to be called by that name only).

He is from the war-torn Somalia.

“When I arrived here in Cape Town my brother took me to Pretoria for asylum papers but I could not manage getting any. We spent three days but were not attended to because of the long queues. It was hard for us lodging for more than three days. We were paying R300 per night.

Okra visited Cape Town Refugee Reception Centre on 3 April 2018 only to find out that the office was not reopened.

“Employers need some form of identification so I can not be employed. My brother is looking after me,” he says.

James Bakina Albert (24) from DRC who has been in the country for almost two years says, “I fled together with my parents from DRC going to Mozambique. My parents had no money for all of us to be in South Africa so I left them in Mozambique beginning of last year. I thought if I get an asylum then I could work and send my parents money to be here in South Africa. Its difficult living separated from parents like this.”

Albert stays with his wife in Malmesbury. He has been to Home Affairs in Cape Town several times hoping to get asylum papers but to no avail.

“It is a very difficult situation for me. I have to spend almost R30 for transport to town and back. I am not working. At times I get one-day job and use the money for food. My rent is R1200. My friends assist me paying for the rent. I don’t think the department is aware of our situation,” he says.

A Burundian national, Guy Roger Ngezahayo and his family have been in South Africa since 2015. They have visited Cape Town Refugee Centre several times for their asylum papers.

“The department is making me and my family suffer. Every time I am told to go to Pretoria for the papers. Where will I get the money for the whole family? This is disturbing,” he says.

Ngezahayo stays in a small shack on church premises in Atlantis. According to him the situation is not conducive.

“How can I sleep and in one room with my four children? This is not normal. There is no privacy.  I ended up in this situation because I am not working and have no money to rent more than a room. What is worrying me most is my 11 and 9-year-old children are not attending school since I came to South Africa,” he says.

He survives from well wishers.

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About Bernard Chiguvare 56 Articles
Originally from Zimbabwe and since 2014 I been contributing to different publications in South Africa. My area of focus as a reporter is on the rights of vulnerable communities and foreign nationals in any country.