For Immediate Release: 29 September 2017
The Department of Home Affairs given until March 2018 to reopen and maintain a fully functional refugee office in Cape Town.
Today, 29 September 2017, in the Supreme Court of Appeal, a decision taken by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to close the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (CTRRO) was declared unlawful.
This decision comes after the Legal Resources Centre, on behalf of the Scalabrini Centre, the Somali Association for South Africa and asylum seekers, appealed a decision by the Western Cape High Court which supported the DHA’s decision, despite opposition to the closure from civil society and asylum seekers and following two previous High Court orders and a Supreme Court of Appeal order declaring its closure unlawful.
The earlier SCA judgment in Scalabrini I was handed down in 2012 after the decision was successfully challenged. The SCA, however, gave the Director General of the DHA an opportunity to consider afresh the future of the CTRRO, after consulting with interested parties.
After consulting with interested parties, including a number of civil society organisations, and going against the unanimous view that the closure of the CTRRO would impact on the human rights of asylum seekers, the DHA made a decision for a second time, on the 31 January 2014, to close the CTRRO.
Our clients approached the High Court again, requesting it to review and set aside the decision, arguing that it is unlawful and unconstitutional.
In its arguments to the High Court in Scalabrini II, the DHA emphasised the procurement difficulties and costs associated with opening an RRO. The Court found in favour of DHA and the judgment was taken on appeal.
In the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment handed down today, the Court found that the decision to close the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office is irrational and unlawful. The Court found that the DG had ignored relevant factors when making his decision and that there is a level of demand and need for the CTRRO that must be considered, referring to the backlogs in the office. It stated that, “He also failed to properly consider whether the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office was necessary for the purposes of the [Refugees] Act.”
The Court found that the contentions of the DHA that there were difficulties obtaining premises, that the Refugees Act does not allow for satellite offices and that “substantial additional resources are required…have no merit”. The SCA also referred to the international obligations of the DHA in providing opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers to exercise their rights.
It should be noted that the Court viewed askance the failure of the DHA to implement previous court orders.
The Department of Home Affairs has been given until March 2018 to reopen and maintain a fully functional refugee office in Cape Town. The Court has also requested periodic updates from the DHA as to progress being made.
This judgment is crucial in upholding the rights and dignity of asylum seekers and refugees, who have been prejudiced by the policy decisions of the DHA. The ability of asylum seekers to access RROs to apply for permits and to support themselves and their family, as well as integrate into their community while their asylum applications are processed, is critically important if an asylum seeker is to enjoy their human rights.
“From our perspective, the urban RRO is incredibly important for the functioning of the asylum system – since this unlawful closure in 2012, asylum seekers have struggled immensely in accessing the most basic services with grave consequences. The RRO closure has meant asylum seekers and their families must travel long distances to the remaining three RROs every three to six months while they wait for their claims to be processed, which takes many years including appeals. This results in many asylum seekers being unable to keep their documentation valid. The closure of urban RROs has undermined the asylum process, which is not in the national interest.” Miranda Madikane — Director, Scalabrini Centre