Rights groups launch urgent high court bid to save PE Refugee office
Joint Media Statement on behalf of the HIVOS Eastern Cape Refugee and Migrant Programme; Project for Conflict Resolution and Development; Somali Association of South Africa (Eastern Cape), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Refugee Rights Centre, Social Change Assistance Trust (SCAT) and the Black Sash.
For Immediate Release: Friday, 2 December 2011
Refugee rights organisations have launched an urgent high court bid to prevent the closure of the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office. Lawyers for Human Rights filed an application on their behalf against the Minister of Home Affairs and her Director General, the Minister of Public Affairs, the Chief Director of Asylum Seeker Management and the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs in the Eastern Cape High Court on Monday (28 November 2011). The application says the abrupt and unexpected decision to permanently close the PE office at the end of November should be declared unlawful. The rights organisations, which include the Eastern Cape Refugee and Migrants Programme, the Project for Conflict Resolution and the Somali Association of South Africa, the Social Change Assistance Trust, the Black Sash and the Refugee Rights Centre, also want the court to instruct Home Affairs to keep the office open and fully functional until the matter is resolved. The State has now filed its notice of opposition and the case is due to be heard on the 13th of December 2011.
Linton Harmse, Director of the Refugee Rights Centre at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, says they were left with no choice but to take legal action. “We were not consulted about the closure. And since being informed in late October, we have made every effort to persuade Home Affairs to review their decision and meet their statutory obligations to the thousands of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers waiting to have their applications processed or their permits issued or extended. We have been monitoring the situation very closely and unfortunately this week, they closed the gates to the centre and appear to have suspended all services,” explains Harmse.
Somali Association of South Africa (Eastern Cape), Dino Jilley, says there are over 800 Somalians and Ethiopians who have been waiting weeks, and in some case months, to have their applications registered. “It is a disgrace that these already traumatised people should be treated with such disregard. To close the office down so suddenly, and without proper notice or consultation, shows a complete lack of compassion and respect for the basic rights of our most vulnerable members of society,” insists Jilley.
According to Home Affairs, the decision to close the reception centre was made partly because “Port Elizabeth is not located strategically to assist people who want to apply for asylum”. But Michael Bendle, Director of the Project for Conflict Resolution and Development, says many thousands of refugees from the Eastern Cape as well as the Free State, Northern Cape and Southern Cape are serviced by the PE centre. “New applicants and existing permit holders from all of these provinces will now be forced to travel very long distances, and at great expense, to Durban or Cape Town or Pretoria or Musina to have their permits issued or extended. It will put unbearable pressure on these already overburdened refugee reception offices who have been struggling to cope since the closure of the Johannesburg Office,” says Bendle.
The department also claims that the PE office needs to be closed because of “on-going dissatisfaction expressed by the local business community”. But Alexa Lane, Black Sash Provincial Director in the Eastern Cape, says Home Affairs has known for over a year about the court action undertaken by businesses around the Sidon Road centre. “They have also known for some time that their lease was due to expire, so claiming that they missed the deadline to inform the Department of Public Works, is simply not an acceptable excuse. The state has a moral and legal duty to uphold the Constitutional right of everyone, including refugees, to administrative justice,” insists Lane.
For more information and interview requests, please contact:
Mr Linton Harmse
Director: Refugee Rights Centre, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
041-5041310 / 073 1762239
Mr Michael Bendle
Director: Project for Conflict Resolution and Development
041-5812414 / 0834557569
Mr Dino Jilley
Somali Association of South Africa (Eastern Cape)
Mr David Stephens
HIVOS Programme Manager Eastern Cape Refugee and Migrant Programme, Eastern Cape
041-5812414 / 0832251019
Mr Vuyo Msizi
Fieldworker: Social Change Assistance Trust (SCAT)
041-5812414 / 0842422012
Mrs Alexa Lane
Eastern Cape Provincial Director: Black Sash
041-487 3288 / 084-572 1467