This site uses session, functional, analytics and third-party cookies. Please click on "learn more" to read our cookies policy and decide to accept cookies during site navigation.

South Africa: refugee documentation remains an issue
14 February 2011

Without documentation the ability of refugees to contribute to their host societies is severely limited, Pretoria, South Africa, (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
Permits and documents are essential for refugees and asylum seekers to live, work and partake in the economy of their host country.
Johannesburg, 11 February 2010 – Refugee documentation remains a concern in South Africa, as demonstrated recently in a legal battle in the Cape Town High Court.

Refugees and asylum seekers who are unable to pay the 250 euro (2,500 South African Rand) fine for the late renewal of their permits are now liable to having their documents confiscated. Asylum seekers are required to renew their permits every three months.

Yet, refugees in Cape Town argue that the reasons for late renewal stem from the lengthy queues at Home Affairs processing centres. In addition to this, the centres often take weeks to process applications.

The University of Cape Town Law Faculty's Refugee Rights Project is currently representing eight applicants on behalf of a further 59 who find themselves vulnerable to arrest and deportation, due to the confiscation of their permits.

Problems with documentation are also evident in other major urban centres. Towards the end of 2010, Lawyers for Human Rights in Johannesburg won a battle allowing the use of refugee permits as valid identification documents for accessing banking services. Prior to this, refugees were being denied additional banking services and access to any accounts held in their name.

This was due to changes in financial legislation which prohibited the use of a refugee permit as valid documentation. Despite this victory refugees in Johannesburg are still denied services from some banks.

Right to travel

Travel permits for refugees raise another concern: the delay in providing refugees with machine-readable travel documents means many refugees are unable to leave South Africa. Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase, a refugee from Rwanda, currently working in the financial sector in South Africa, waited more than nine months for a document that would allow him to travel for work.

"I am sure you would understand how frustrating it would be if I cannot deliver on my job, because I cannot leave South Africa", said Mr Kabalira-Uwase.

He further explains that he returned his original travel document due to a misspelling of his name in December and did not receive a new one for 12 months.

Permits and documents are essential for refugees and asylum seekers to live, work and partake in the economy of their host country. JRS South Africa reports all cases of refugees unable to access their legal rights to Lawyers for Human Rights (South Africa) and the Wits Law Clinic.

Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
+39 06 6897 7465