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Refugee Status and Asylum Seekers

- Featured article by LAWYERS-ONLINE.CO.ZA

The general procedureL Application for Asylum

An Asylum Seeker is someone who has fled his or her country of origin and is seeking recognition and protection as a refugee in the Republic of South Africa, and whose application is still under consideration.

In the case of a negative decision on his application, he has to leave the country voluntarily or will be deported.

A refugee is a person who has been granted asylum status and protection in terms of the section 24 of Refugee Act No 130 of 1998.

Under the 1951 United Nations Convention, a refugee can be a “convention refugee” who has left his home country and has a well - founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or a membership in a particular social group.

Under the same convention, a refugee can also be a person “in need of protection” whose removal to his home country would subject him personally to a danger of torture or to a risk to his life or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

The Government of the Republic of South Africa has an obligation to grant protection to refugees and other persons in need of protection under a number of UN Conventions such as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

However, Convention refugees and persons in need of protection based on a risk to life, or a cruel and unusual treatment must have faced personally the risk all the way throughout the country in question

Applications may take up to six months. There is no fee payable for eligibility and status determination interviews as well as issuance or renewal of section 22, section 24 and refugee ID. Service to asylum seekers and refugees is free of charge.

A person enters the Republic of South Africa through a port of entry (a land border post, airport or harbour), claims to be an asylum seeker and is, therefore, issued with a section 23 Permits which is a non - renewable “asylum transit permit” of the Immigration Act.

The permit is valid for a period of 14 days only and authorizes the person to report to the nearest Refugee Reception Office in order to apply for asylum in terms of section 21 of the Refugee Act.

The asylum seeker is required to furnish the following: a section 23 permit; any proof of identification from the country of origin; a travel document if in possession of one; and the asylum seeker lodges in person his application at a designated Refugee Reception Office where an admissibility hearing takes place.

The following are done: a pplicant’s fingerprints taken in the prescribed manner; interpreter if secured (if necessary); first interview conducted by a Refugee Reception Officer (RRO) and BI - 1590 form duly completed; and applicant’s data and image captured in the refugee system .

An Asylum Seeker’s permit (a section 22 permit) is printed, signed, stamped and issued to the Asylum Seeker. The section 22 permit which is valid for a period of six months legalizes the asylum seeker stay in the Republic of South Africa temporarily pending a final decision on his application. The permit can be extended by an RRO for a further six months while the process of status determination is in progress. The holder of section 22 permit has the right to work and study in South Africa and is protected against deportation to his country of origin.

Before the permit expires, the asylum seeker reports to the Refugee Reception Office. A second interview is conducted by a Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO). The RSDO proceed with a fair adjudication of the application, makes a decision on claims for asylum application and provides reasons for the decisions. The RSDO must on conclusion of the status determination hearing grant asylum; or reject the applications manifestly unfounded, abusive or fraudulent; or refer any question of law to the Standing Committee for Refu gee Affairs (SCRA).

When granted asylum (written recognition of refugee status), a refugee is generally issued with a section 24 permit, which allows such person to remain for a specified period of 2 years in South Africa, and it is renewable upon expirat ion of its validity after the review process by an RSDO. In this case, the refugee must write a letter requesting the extension of his or her refugee status. He is also allowed to work and study in South Africa whilst the permit is valid.

A refugee must apply for a refugee ID at any Refugee Reception Office within 15 days in the prescribed manner. After being issued with an ID, a refugee can apply for a UNCTD (United Nations Convention Travel Document) at any Refugee Reception Office in t he prescribed manner. An ID is free .

In case of rejection, an asylum seeker or refugee who believes that he has a well - founded fear of persecution but whose claim has been rejected, may decide to appeal against the rejection decision of the RSDO to the Refugee Appeal Board (RAB) in the prescribed manner within 30 days after the decision has been handed over to them. The Appeal Board conducts an appeal hearing during which the appellant who is entitled to a fair hearing have the rights to be heard and to pre sent his case fully.

The Refugee Appeal Board is responsible for considering and deciding appeals on decisions made by RSDOs. The RAB may after hearing an appeal confirm or set aside or substitute the decision of the RSDO. In respect of manifestly unfound ed applications, the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs (SCRA) reviews or confirms or sets aside decisions taken by the RSDO and refer cases back to RSDO for determination within 14 days as well as monitors in general the decisions of the RSDO.

The applicant must have 5 full years continuous residence in the Republic of South Africa as a formally recognized refugee not as an asylum seeker. Write an application letter explaining the reasons for applying for the certification. Go to the initial refugee reception office where application for asylum was first lodged and complete the form. The Refugee Reception Office will ensure that the applicant complies with all the requirements . The application will be referred to the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs which is the body established to certify or not if the applicant will remain a refugee indefinitely. If successful, the applicant will then be issued with a “Certification” or Section 27 which will enable the applicant to apply at any Home Affairs office for an “Immigration Permit” or “Permanent Residence”.

Date: 5th May 2014
Legislation: Refugee Act No 130 of 1998
1969 OAU Convention Governing The Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees
1993 Basic Agreement between the Government of South Africa and the UNHCR
The Immigration Act No 13 of 2002

Refugee Status and Asylum Seekers - Legal Information South Africa