We are shocked, distressed and disappointed over the Department of Home Affairs’ abrupt and unexpected decision to permanently close the (Port Elizabeth) Refugee Reception Office at the end of November. As organisations intimately involved in the protection and support of refugees and asylum seekers, we find it completely unacceptable that all stakeholders were not consulted. We were only informed late last week that no new applications for asylum would be accepted after Friday, 21 October 2011.
There are approximately 800 Somalis 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 refugees and asylum seekers 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.
Home Affairs claims that the decision was made partly because “Port Elizabeth is not located strategically to assist people who want to apply for asylum.” But 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, Cape Town, 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.
The department also claims that the PE office needs to be closed because of “on-going dissatisfaction expressed by the local business community.” But like us, the department has been fully aware for more than a year of 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 department urgently needs to explain how they intend letting applicants and permit holders know about which refugee reception office their file will be sent to, and what guarantees they intend putting in place to ensure that these files will not be misplaced. Also, if the files will only be sent to the other offices in the last week of November, what guarantees are there that those people whose permits expire during the first week of December, will be given an appointment at the other offices before their permit expires?
In light of all these unanswered questions, we call on the Department of Home Affairs to grant a two-week extension in order to give the PE Refugee Reception Office and other stakeholders sufficient time to deal with the large numbers of new applicants still waiting for assistance. We also ask that a temporary space be found for the centre as a matter of urgency, and clear guidelines be given as to how the files will be transferred to the other offices. We also call on the department to communicate these changes clearly with all their clients and inform them fully, and in good time, about how and when their files will be removed and transferred.
For more information contact:
Refugee Rights Centre, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Tel: 041 504 1310
Mobile: 073 176 2239
Project for Conflict Resolution and Development
Tel: 041 581 2414
Mobile: 083 455 7569
Somali Association of South Africa (Eastern Cape)
Mobile: 073 500 8700
HIVOS Eastern Cape Refugee and Migrant Programme (Eastern Cape)
Tel: 041 581 2414
Mobile: 083 225 1019
Social Change Assistance Trust
Tel: 041 581 2414
Mobile: 084 242 2012
Black Sash (Eastern Cape)
Tel: 041 487 3288
Mobile: 084 572 1467
Notes to Editors
Stakeholders involved in the extension of services to refugees and asylum seekers were invited to a meeting at the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office (RRO) on 17 October 2011 to a formal briefing session surrounding the permanent closure of the RRO. This meeting was postponed while stakeholders were waiting in the reception area at the RRO at 11h00 on the 17 October 2011. No reasons were given for the postponement, except for a statement made by Baxter that he had been informed by Lusu, the acting Provincial Manager, to postpone due to a more urgent matter arising, and that the stakeholders should contact her office for further information.
Linton Harmse contacted Lusu and was informed that she would be in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, 19 October 2011, to deal with these matters and would be in contact with the stakeholders at this time. Stakeholders were called to a meeting on Thursday, 20 October 2011, at noon at the Department of Home Affairs building in Port Elizabeth at which they were informed by Lusu that the RRO would be permanently closing on 30 November 2011, and would discontinue all registration of new applications for asylum from 21 October 2011. A formal letter dated 7 October 2011 and signed by Mkuseli Aplleni, the Director General of Home Affairs was also made available to all stakeholders present.
The stakeholders present were given an opportunity to respond and expressed their shock at the lack of communication not just with them, but with the most important group namely Asylum Seekers and Refugees, the RRO clients which clearly goes against the Batho Pele principle of 'People First'.
For more about the Project for Conflict Resolution and Development, refer to www.pcrd.org.za.
For more about the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, refer to www.nmmu.ac.za.
For more about the Social Change Assistance Trust, refer to www.scat.org.za.
For more about the Black Sash, refer to www.blacksash.org.za.
To view other NGO press releases, refer to www.ngopulse.org/group/home-page/pressreleases.