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U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - South Africa

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2005
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - South Africa , 20 June 2005, available at: [accessed 19 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Refoulement/Asylum  The Government deported about 50,000 undocumented Zimbabweans without proper asylum screening. One died after jumping from a deportation train. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) accused the Government of setting unfairly high standards for Zimbabwean asylum seekers. Several Zimbabweans reported that guards with whips chased them away from refugee reception offices (RROs).

The Government threatened to deport refugees and asylum seekers with expired identification papers and foreign unaccompanied children without conducting asylum interviews. Police and immigration officials reportedly demanded sexual favors from women and girls as bribes for not deporting them.

The 1998 Refugees Act forbade the expulsion, extradition, or denial of entry of refugees and asylum seekers and created a three-stage refugee status determination process, including the right to appeal to a separate board. The system, however, was fraught with delays that sometimes lasted two years despite the 180-day limit set forth in regulations. At year's end, more than 115,000 asylum seekers were still awaiting decisions, 32,000 of whom applied in 2004. Officials sought bribes at various stages of the process, including for the scheduling of appointments.

In 2005, the Office of the Public Protector, an ombudsman created by the Constitution, issued a report that found that the RRO in Braamfontein denied refugees access to the system in an "arbitrary and grossly improper manner," causing "severe prejudice" to them. The report also concluded that guards used "mechanisms of crowd control unbecoming of treatment of members of the public."

Detention  The Government detained many refugees and asylum seekers who lacked proper documentation due to the system's delays but also some who had documentation. Police even detained those waiting at government offices to file applications. Lawyers for Human Rights secured the release of hundreds of unlawfully detained asylum seekers.

Eleven immigrants died in October due to ill health and lack of medical treatment while in detention at Lindela Repatriation Center, a facility west of Johannesburg holding 5,000 immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. A refugee died while detained at a Johannesburg police station. Local authorities in Messina, a town bordering Zimbabwe, detained undocumented immigrants, sometimes for days, in an outdoor facility without toilets or running water.

The Refugees Act required issuance of identification cards to refugees and permits to asylum seekers, but asylum seekers waited months, sometimes up to a year, for permits, and received no protection from deportation in the interim. Regulations granted those found without valid documentation 14 days to submit an asylum application. Proposed changes in the law would allow deportation of those who failed to appear within 14 days.

Immigrants detained at the Lindela Repatriation Center complained that the conditions were overcrowded and unsanitary, that guards beat them and denied them access to immigration officials, and that they received poor food and inadequate health services. In December, following a riot outside the facility, the Government suspended deportations on the grounds that many had been detained more than 30 days without trial, in violation of the Refugees Act. In August 2003, the Constitutional Court found that foreigners detained pursuant to the Immigration Act were protected by the procedural safeguards of the South African Constitution and statutory law.

Refugees could challenge the basis of their detention in court. The Refugees Act authorized the Government to designate places of temporary detention in the event of a massive influx of asylum seekers and refugees. The Department of Home Affairs said it would detain asylum seekers pending the outcome of their applications.

Right to Earn a Livelihood  The Refugees Act granted refugees the right to work. Permits for asylum seekers authorized them to work and study while their applications were pending. In Johannesburg, however, the RRO sometimes denied or placed restrictions on asylum seekers' permits. The 2001 Private Security Industry Regulation Act prohibited refugees from working in the private security industry, where many refugees had worked guarding parking lots. Most refugees worked in the informal sector as street merchants without licenses but the police occasionally confiscated the goods of those they caught doing so.

The law allowed refugees to own property and businesses and a few refugees owned land and obtained bank loans. Some banks, however, were not familiar with refugee identification documents, creating obstacles for many. Although the law did not specifically exclude refugees from unemployment insurance, many did not obtain payments even after having made contributions to the fund. Employment discrimination was common. Formally employed refugees could resort to legal action before a mediation commission or courts.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  Refugees and asylum seekers with valid identification and permits were free to move about the country. Delays in the asylum system, however, prevented thousands from obtaining or renewing their documents. RRO officials also required refugees to renew documents at the same RRO where they initially applied, even if they had moved to another region. Those without valid documents risked detention and deportation.

Most refugees and asylum seekers lived in five major cities: Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth. The Refugees Act granted refugees the right to international travel documents.

Public Relief and Education  The Refugees Act granted refugees, but not asylum seekers, the right to the "same basic health services and basic primary education on par with nationals." Refugees could apply for an exemption from school fees, but many still could not afford uniforms, transportation, and other costs. A 2003 survey found that emergency medical care providers refused 17 percent of the refugees who sought it. Since then, UNHCR trained healthcare providers and reported that refugee complaints declined. The Government did not restrict humanitarian assistance to refugees. UNHCR and NGOs helped refugees UNHCR deemed vulnerable with education, food, and rent.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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