Intolerable queues at Port Elizabeth Home Affairs

Photographs taken on the 6th of February 2012 in Port Elizabeth show the unacceptably long length of the queue of people seeking Asylum Seeker or Refugee permits from the Department of Home Affairs, Port Elizabeth.

Asylum Seekers 6.02.12.JPG      The queue outside Home Affairs in Port Elizabeth

The people in these photos are all refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who, to avoid prosecution, must renew their asylum or refugee permits or apply for new permits.  Renewal or application for a permit is a right confirmed and protected by the South African Refugee Act.   According to South African law, a person without citizenship and without a permit is residing illegally in the country and is liable to prosecution.   A person without a permit is also unable to legally work or open a bank account, a situation which can be detrimental for someone who often already faces dire economic challenges.

Asylum Seekers long queue 6.02.12_0.JPGPeople are waiting for weeks, sometimes months, to be assisted

The Department of Home Affairs is not coping with the massive amount of people in Port Elizabeth who do not have access to a Refugee Reception Office, which was closed down without proper notice or alternative in November 2011.  People have been queuing to access their constitutional right to a permit for weeks – even months, a problem that is sometimes worsened by offline computers at the Home Affairs office.

Asylum Seekers round cnr 6.02.12.JPGPermit seekers queue diligently every day to access their right to a permit.

On Thursday the 9th of February, the High Court in Port Elizabeth will make a decision on the case brought against the Minister of Home Affairs (and others) about the untimely and unfortunate closure of the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office.  The applicants against the Minister are the Somali Association of the Eastern Cape and the Project for Conflict Resolution and Development (PCRD).  The applicants are attempting to force Home Affairs to recognize the constitutional rights of asylum seekers and refugees, which is to be able to access a functional accessible office to process permit applications.  It is hoped by the applicants and their partners that the High Court will rule that Home Affairs should open a new Reception Office to process new permit applications and renewals immediately.  

Permits have to be applied for and renewed (usually once every 3 – 6 months on a specific date) in person. The nearest Refugee Reception Office to Port Elizabeth is in Cape Town, approximately 700km away.   For a marginalised and vulnerable group of people to be forced to travel at great expense to access permits is unacceptable. 

Scat will be updating its followers on the results of the court case on the 9th of February, in the meanwhile please create awareness by sharing the news of the dysfunctional situation in Port Elizabeth.  

Photos taken by Vuyo Msizi from the Social Change Assistance Trust.  Vuyo is working with Scat, PCRD and the Refugee Rights Centre at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on the Refugee, Migrant and Asylum Seeker Programme supported by the European Union for South Africa and HIVOS.  

For more background on what happened in Port Elizabeth when the Refugee Reception Office was closed by Home Affairs, go to a previous press release here.