For Immediate Release
25 April 2023
Cape Town Refugee Reception Office finally reopens 11 years later
CAPE TOWN — The Cape Town Refugee Reception Office has officially reopened today after more than 10 years of delays and legal action against the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).
The DHA closed the CTRRO in 2012, which meant that asylum seekers could only apply for asylum in the existing, fully functional refugee reception offices located in Durban, Musina or Pretoria. The decision to abruptly close the CTRRO led to thousands of asylum seekers and refugees being effectively prejudiced by their exclusion from reasonable access to essential asylum and refugee protection services. Acting on behalf of the Scalabrini Centre and the Somalia Association of South Africa (SASA), the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) challenged the decision to close the CTRRO in the Western Cape High Court following the DHA’s decision to permanently close the CTRRO in January 2014. Notably, this was the second time that the DHA had made the decision to close the CTRRO. The first decision to close the CTRRO was taken in May 2012 when the Director-General decided that the CTRRO would be closed to all newcomers with effect from 30 June 2012. That decision was later reviewed and set aside by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in the matter of Minister of Home Affairs and Others v Scalabrini Centre in 2013, on the basis that the CTRRO was closed unilaterally and without public participation or meaningful engagement with affected communities. Following the SCA judgment, the DHA embarked on a fresh consultation process on whether to reopen the CTRRO. Notwithstanding the consultative process with various stakeholders, which revealed the negative impact that the closure of the CTRRO would have on thousands of asylum seekers, the DHA nevertheless closed the CTRRO.
In May 2014, the LRC launched an application in the Western Cape High Court to review and set aside the decision by DHA to close the CTRRO. While the review application was dismissed by this court, it was upheld on appeal by the SCA in September 2017. The closure of the CTRRO was deemed an unlawful decision undertaken by the DHA and consequently set aside on review. The SCA further ordered that DHA reopen and maintain a fully functional refugee reception office in or around the Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality by March 2018. In addition, the Director-General of the Department of Home Affairs was mandated to provide monthly reports to the appellants on any progress made regarding reopening of the CTRRO. The DHA sought leave to appeal the SCA decision to the Constitutional Court, which the apex court dismissed in December 2017 on the basis that the application bore no prospects of success.
Despite the order granted by the SCA in 2017, DHA had failed to make any meaningful progress on the re-opening of the CTRRO by end of March 2018. The LRC, again representing the Scalabrini Centre and SASA, embarked on legal action asking the court to fashion an effective and meaningful remedy to ensure that DHA complies with the SCA order; furnish the necessary monthly reports, and ensure that the CTRRO is reopened as soon as possible. However, further setbacks were caused by the DHA, including delays in procuring appropriate premises for a new CTRRO. Additional interruptions to progress were also caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2021 the matter was heard by acting judge Alma De Wet of the Western Cape High Court. During the hearing, De Wet proposed a “case management” system wherein the court would have direct judicial supervision over the process. The DHA would be required to attend monthly meetings and submit monthly reports to the court. The proposal was an alternative to the appointment of a special master. This proposal was deemed a reasonable alternative remedy to ensure that there would be no further delays in reopening the Refugee Reception Office.
The active participation of acting judge De Wet in ensuring DHA compliance through the provision of monthly progress reports and monthly meeting attendance, with judicial oversight on the progress for the re-opening of the CTRRO, was pivotal in guaranteeing constant and meaningful dialogue between all parties involved in this matter. This process ensured meaningful progress in DHA efforts to reopen the CTRRO. The matter finally reached a significant step for the parties involved when DHA stated in their May 2021 report that a site had been secured in Epping for the building of a new CTRRO. After months of meetings and progress reports, DHA finally reported that the CTRRO would be opened during the first quarter of 2023.
The reopening of the CTRRO today provides a fitting bookend on a longstanding fight for the protection of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in South Africa. It also provides a tangible example of victory for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in the country. The new CTRRO will hopefully symbolise the struggle and victory for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in South Africa.
The LRC is grateful to the legal expertise and service provided by Advocates Emma Broster and Steven Budlender throughout this matter. We would also like to acknowledge Legal Aid South Africa for the funding provided in this case. Finally, the LRC also thanks the Scalabrini Centre and the Somalia Association of South Africa for their work as refugee organisations, and for the opportunity to represent them in this matter.