Thursday, 15 December 2011

Victory for refugees in Johannesburg

Refugee day_1
Image by UN in Armenia via Flickr
Source: Lawyers for Human Rights

The North Gauteng High Court handed down judgment 14 December setting aside Department of Home Affairs' decision not to open a refugee reception office in Johannesburg and directing the Director-General to reconsider his decision.

Lawyers for Human Rights was representing the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants and the Coordinating Body of the Refugee Communities. These groups challenged the decision by the Department of Home Affairs not to open a new refugee reception office in Johannesburg after the existing office was closed down at the end of May 2011.  The Department claimed that it had made no such decision and was in fact ordered to close the refugee reception office by another court application brought by the surrounding businesses in Crown Mines.

The Court found that a decision had indeed been taken in line with an apparent policy pronouncement by Cabinet to move all asylum services to border posts.  It was agreed between all parties that if a decision was found to have been taken, the necessary public consultation and consultation with the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs had not taken place as required by the law.

According to Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, head of the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme at LHR, “We are encouraged by the court’s decision in this matter.” She added, “We continue to be extremely concerned about the closures of the metropolitan refugee reception offices. The Department of Home Affairs has not carried out any public consultations on a decision which will negatively affect a vulnerable group. Further, the department has so far failed to put up any infrastructure or make contingency arrangements to provide services to refugees and asylum seekers. Notwithstanding, they have started closing down refugee reception offices.”

Lawyers for Human Rights has also challenged the closure of the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office.  This centre was closed as of 30 November 2011 apparently in line with the same Cabinet policy.  That matter is due to be heard on 9 February 2012 in the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth.
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