Cameroonian refugees in Cape Town can’t get legal status

Home Affairs was ordered by the courts to open a centre over a year ago for new asylum seeker applicants

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Photo of people outside a buuilding
Queues at the Department of Home Affairs on the Foreshore. A new refugee office is to be opened in Maitland. Archive photo: Tariro Washinyira

A Cameroonian family seeking asylum, who arrived in South Africa on 3 April by entering through Lesotho, are struggling to legalise their status. The three brothers, together with two women and five children, say they fled their country because they were caught in the conflict between the English and French-speaking population, which erupted in 2017. The family wishes to remain anonymous and say they fear for their lives.

The family went to immigrant-rights activist group PASSOP. Like many asylum seekers they are battling to get documented in Cape Town because Home Affairs closed its doors in 2012 to new applicants.

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and the Scalabrini Centre took Home Affairs to court and, after a long battle in September 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the department to open and maintain the Cape Town office by 31 March 2018. But Home Affairs has still not complied, though it has been reported that a new Cape Town Refugee Reception Office will be opened in June 2019 on new premises in Maitland.

Currently, there are only four centres – in Musina, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth – where new asylum applications can be lodged.

“We are relying on someone we grew up with in Cameroon [but is now in Cape Town]. She is not a blood sister; it would be too much to ask her to finance the trip to PE, including food and accommodation,” said the eldest brother.

“Even if they manage to raise the money to go and apply outside Cape Town, renewing is also going to be a problem, as the family will need to travel to renew at where they have originally applied,” said Tendai Bhiza of PASSOP. “We have a case of a woman who has travelled from Pretoria to renew here in Cape Town because Home Affairs is refusing to transfer her file.”

Life has been a daily struggle for the family from Cameroon since they arrived in South Africa. The ten-year-old girl had already missed a year of school and is still not in school.

“Every school I have been to here in Cape Town is asking for either a study permit or asylum document in the child’s name,” said the eldest brother.

“Life is expensive in Cape Town. I have a big family. I need to stand on my feet and give my sister and her family space but I don’t know how without a document,” he said.

He is however grateful that his family is out of danger, but he is worried about what the future holds. Without documents, he cannot open a bank account. He will struggle to find work or start a business. The family will struggle to get medical care and schooling. And every day, he lives in fear of being arrested.

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TOPICS:  Home Affairs Immigration

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

My application for asylum was rejected. I have been living in South Africa without documents for four years but during this time I have been trying to help from Home Affairs. An official told me that the only solution is to go back to Cameroon considering the fact that I have 2 children.

Due to the situation in my country, I can't go back. My children's education also matters and I don't have funds for our trip back home. Our lives will be at risk. Why should I go to Cameroon with my children who are born in South Africa, risking their lives and mine to go back? Why can't I just apply for a new asylum instead?

I don't want to continue staying in the country illegally and not being able to work or study. I have been living in SA for the past 1 5years... I want the minister of home affairs to consider giving the illegal immigrants asylum even if it was rejected he needs to consider those countries at war.

Dear Editor

The Home Affairs Department should train most of the officials working at all the Refugee Reception Centers. They cannot deal with asylum seekers and refugees if they are not qualified to do so. One should know refugee related laws to understand his or her given duties when dealing with those who have been forced to leave their country due to a well founded fear of persecution.

The officials should also know that everyone has a fundamental right to seek protection in another country, SA included. Similarly, they should know that it is not a favour that SA government is not doing to Asylum Seekers in processing their applications for protection - No. Please note that SA is, by international law, obligated to receive and protect asylum seekers and refugees because it ratified the 1951 Refugee convention and the 1969 AU ( AUO ) regional convetion relating to the status of refugees.

The Batho Pele and Ubuntu principles should should not be overshadowed by Xenophobic attitude when officials are dealing with african migrants, asylum seekers and migrants - but it is unfortunate that the above-mentioned principles are quasi-inexitent when the Home Affairs officials are dealing with the already traumatised victims of persecutions.

The officials should stop treating asylum seekers as lesser beings who have no human dignity. They should know that the constitution of SA protects asylum seekers and refugees.

Where is your empathy when dealing with those who fled to your shores to seek protection? Shame on you for not doing what you are supposed to do, but choose the opposite!

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