Archive from October, 2019

Informal village springs up in Cape Town CBD as sit-in continues at UN refugee offices

A huge bag of chicken and bunches of spinach were being prepared for hundreds of foreign nationals still camping out at the UN High Commission for Refugees’ offices in Cape Town’s CBD on Monday in the hopes of being evacuated from South Africa.
Some foreign nationals want to be evacuated from SA.
A huge bag of chicken and bunches of spinach were being prepared for hundreds of foreign nationals still camping out at the UN High Commission for Refugees’ offices in Cape Town’s CBD on Monday, in the hopes of being evacuated from SA amid safety fears.
“If there is any generous country that still wants to help, we are ready to go to that place where we can feel safe,” Jean-Pierre Balous, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told News24.
They are hoping that the refugee agency will assist them and have plastered the pillars at the entrance of Waldorf Arcade with pictures of people who have been injured or attacked, seemingly just because they are foreign.
A toddler wailed as his mother stirred a pot of mielie meal at the entrance to St George’s Arcade, which is off one of the cobbled walkways parallel to Adderley Street. Rows and rows of blankets and pillows, with flip-flops neatly positioned at the end of the makeshift beds, filled the arcade.

Bags at the ready in Cape Town. (Jenni Evans, News24)
Many people slept, blankets over their ears to block the cacophony of chatter around them. Children played with little toy cars and a group of women played a board game drawn on the side of a torn off piece of cardboard.
“They have to do something to make the day shorter,” said one man.
The occupation began on October 8.
Piles of luggage and more bedding are stacked against an outside pillar.
“We are ready to go,” said Balous, adding an estimated 80 children also lived there, and those of school-going age were being forced to carry on with school, even though their parents worry about them being victimised.
The scene was juxtaposed against the announcement by Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato on Monday that the Mother City was voted as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
According to a survey done by Flight Network, a Canadian online travel agency, Cape Town came seventh out of 50 desired worldwide destinations for tourists.
Balous said a similar sit-in was being held in Pretoria and he understood that a meeting would be taking place on Monday with the refugee agency to try and resolve the situation.
They are relying on friends to have somewhere to wash and use the toilet, and some business people have taken small collections and presented it to the women in the group to purchase food.
“I go to my friend’s house to bath,” said one man.
“I have to buy my water,” said another.
But the refugee agency made it clear last week that group settlement was not an option, that it was not taking names for relocation, and there were no buses or planes coming to evacuate refugees and asylum seekers from SA.
Resettlement option
After the attacks in Katlehong recently, xenophobia was blamed, and a private airline took a group of people back to Nigeria at no charge.
The refugee agency added resettlement was only an option for a “very small number of refugees” with strict criteria, which it said most refugees do not meet. The criteria was set by resettlement countries, not the refugee agency.
It said other grievances have been raised in daily meetings with the agency.
These include access to documentation and the renewal of documentation.
The refugee agency said it was working with the South African government to find solutions as quickly as possible, adding the groups do not represent all refugees in SA.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, visited the country last week and met President Cyril Ramaphosa and Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to discuss refugees and asylum seekers in SA.
Grandi met refugees and asylum seekers in Pretoria and Johannesburg, and held a video conference with those in Cape Town.
They raised concerns over the timeframes of the asylum process, and the growing process of not being able to access and review documentation, which had an impact on them getting jobs and services.
He noted the number of resettlement places worldwide were dropping.

One in three Chinese immigrants fail to acquire Australian citizenship amid ‘unwarranted delays’

One in three migrants from mainland China has failed to acquire Australian citizenship since 2012 amid the growing political debate over Chinese influence.
The figure, the highest of any nation in the top 10 sources of new Australian citizens, follows a collapse in the number of Chinese residents approved last financial year, when only 11 per cent of these applicants were granted citizenship as Home Affairs struggled to keep up with demand.
Only two-thirds of applications for citizenship by residents of Chinese heritage have been approved since 2012.
The department pulled that figure back up this year, with 42 per cent of Chinese applications between 2017 and 2019 approved overall.
But figures, given in response to questions on notice in Parliament show that, since 2012, just 64 per cent of applicants from China were approved, compared with 69 per cent from the Philippines, 77 per cent from Britain and India, and 90 per cent from South Africa. The figures exclude migrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Up to 390 Chinese migrants have had their citizenship put on hold for three years, while 9600 have been waiting for two years despite already being permanent residents for several years. At the same time, 2350 Afghani migrants have been waiting since 2015 to have their citizenship applications processed.
A Home Affairs spokesperson said the department did not treat citizenship applications from people from certain backgrounds more favourably than others.
The spokesperson said processing times could vary due to individual circumstances, including the time it takes to receive additional character and national security information from external agencies and the time it takes for the applicant to attend a citizenship ceremony or receive a citizenship certificate.
The Morrison government has blamed the delays on an increase in the complexity of applications. An Auditor-General’s report dismissed this in February, finding that “overall, the relative complexity of the applications lodged has decreased” and the backlog was due to tighter security screenings.
The Home Affairs spokesperson said the department had implemented a number of strategies to improve processing times and reduce the on-hand caseload of applications, without “compromising on national security” or “program integrity”.
The figures come amid a decline in Chinese applications overall. The absolute number of applications for Australian citizenship by residents of Chinese heritage has halved since 2017, when there were 14,707 applicants, compared with 7999 last year.
Political tension between the Chinese and Australian governments has grown since 2017, when former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull angered the Chinese government by introducing foreign interference laws. Mr Turnbull last year banned Chinese telco giant Huawei from building Australia’s 5G network due to national security concerns.
Scott Morrison, who is yet to visit Beijing since becoming prime minister in August last year, has become more aggressive in his differences with China on global trade policy since visiting US President Donald Trump in September. Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has also sharpened her criticism of the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong.
The chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, Mary Patetsos, said the federation hoped people from all backgrounds and nationalities would receive equal treatment in relation to the processing of their citizenship applications.
“I think this is what an overwhelming majority of Australians would expect as citizens of a country that strives to be fair, equitable and democratic,” she said.
“We must also remember that unwarranted delays in the processing of citizenship applications cause significant hardship for families.”
Labor MP Julian Hill, who asked for the figures from Home Affairs and has launched a parliamentary inquiry into the citizenship audit, said the delays had caused widespread anxiety among migrants in his Melbourne electorate of Bruce.
He said some applicants were unable to travel where they needed to without an Australian passport, or apply for jobs in the public service or defence force.
“Then of course there is the big issue of family reunions. People are in my office weekly because they are desperate,” he said.
“Until they are citizens, their family reunion applications will get no priority. That means they have not been able to see their wife, husband or kids for years. The sheer inhumanity of that is astounding.”

Facial recognition tech would save Aussies $2.2 billion – so is it a good idea?

Privacy concerns about national facial recognition database
A Liberal senator says the federal government must push on with legislation for facial recognition technology to prevent Australians losing $2.2 billion each year through identity theft.
The government suffered a setback this week after a parliamentary committee scrutinising its legislation called for greater safeguards
Senator Paul Scarr said the intelligence and security committee, made up of MPs and senators from both sides of the political divide, did its homework and came back with some measured recommendations.
“The government will be looking at the recommendations of the committee and working with the committee to progress the legislation,” the Queensland senator told ABC television on Saturday.
“There was no intention through this legislation to introduce mass surveillance,” he said, adding that something needs to be done to prevent identity theft, which affects one in 20 Australians each year.
Labor frontbencher Andrew Giles said the legislation would allow the Department of Home Affairs to obtain facial images from state driver’s licence databases.
Mr Giles said this is “more overreach” from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.
A parliamentary committee wants more safeguards in the government’s facial recognition legislation. Credit: EPA
“The onus should be on the minister and the government to clearly articulate what they’re doing and why,” Mr Giles told ABC television.
He said the parliament is always trying to strike the balance between ensuring Australians are kept safe while protecting privacy and civil liberties.
“It appears no such consideration took place by the government before introducing this bill,” he said.
Australia is not the only country wary of facial recognition technology, with a new survey in the UK finding almost two in three Britons disagree with police using such technology.
The technology uses surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software to scan passers-by in public spaces, using artificial intelligence to compare them to watch-lists of people being sought by police.

No warm welcome from Home Affairs at Beit Bridge

have a Home Affairs department that is corrupt,’ declared President Cyril Ramaphosa in early October – while Barbara Dale-Jones was experiencing exactly that while travelling to Zimbabwe. As Ramaphosa visited the department’s head office in Pretoria, engaging staff and senior management on strategies to speed up visas and make it easier for visitors to enter the country, hundreds of Zimbabweans and South Africans experienced only frustration, corruption and prejudice at the hands of Home Affairs officials.
Earlier this month, I travelled through the Beit Bridge border post from South Africa to Zimbabwe. The exercise took five hours in heat of more than 45 degrees Celsius. It was a horror and one that gave me a lot of time to reflect on what I was seeing.
At first, the behaviour of the South African Home Affairs officials seemed like incompetence and laziness. They did not seem to have a properly functioning system in place. By the time I had crossed the bridge into Zimbabwe, I had concluded that the South African border officials at Beit Bridge are much worse than incompetent; they preside over a corrupt, xenophobic system that deliberately prejudices poor, black Zimbabweans.
If you’re not used to the border procedures at Beit Bridge, it’s difficult to fathom what exactly to do. There are no clear instructions anywhere. There is no help desk. It’s difficult to get anyone to answer a query. I asked a woman in a Home Affairs uniform for help and she said she was no longer on duty.
No one in uniform smiled. Some officials seemed to be working, but others leaned back in their chairs, eyes drooping closed in the heat of the afternoon. Some ate lunch at their desks.
Feeding off the uncertainty of those, like me, who were new to the procedure were the touts. The touts lean into you, persistently and insistently offering you the solution of quick passage, for a fee. And the fees, to be paid in US dollars, can take you to the top of the queue.
The touts don’t let up easily. Some of them seem to be scam artists, but some are clearly able to work the system and can accelerate someone’s progress to the front of the queue. It’s hard to see that when you’re still waiting after many hours and the queue is not moving.
People are constantly arriving. Queues form and dissolve. There are queues for immigration, emigration, work permits, car permits. The queues are so long they coil around the customs buildings. People queueing mainly look down and stay quiet and calm, but a long, snaking line of hundreds of patiently waiting people will suddenly agitate when the last 50 or so in line get taken to a newly opened booth, or to another building. At one point I saw an official collect the passports of about 100 people and disappear with these documents, presumably to expedite their owners’ passage.
Mobile homes are set up outside the customs building; some people queue there. A line there for those leaving the country winds around a line for those returning. Some people sit or lie down, some stand in groups and talk. The lines are more porous than the border post everyone is trying to cross. What’s important is to stay close to the person in front of you, or else you’ll lose your place.
I spoke to the young, black Zimbabwean woman queueing in front of me. She had travelled from Bulawayo the previous afternoon in order to shop in Musina. She was pulling a bulky suitcase on wheels. On her back was strapped a cooler bag, which she said was full of fresh milk. Her hands carried plastic bags with groceries.
She explained that this is a monthly excursion for her as it’s cheaper to shop in South Africa, and there is more variety in the South African shops. Each month she takes a bus from Bulawayo to the border and then goes into South Africa. When her shopping is done the next day she crosses back over the border, walks over the bridge to the Zimbabwean side, and hitches a lift home on a truck.
Is it safe? I asked. She shrugged and said she had no option. She hoped to be home by midnight. As we edged forward, she and the woman behind us explained that this queue was not unusual. It’s always like this, they said, and they agreed that the difficulties and delays are always on the South African side of the border post. Both said they believe South African Home Affairs officials enjoy seeing Zimbabweans suffer in this way. No mercy is shown to anyone. A pregnant woman will be told she should not be there. The elderly or ill are asked what they are doing at the border post. They hate us, the women said.
They said people dare not complain or stand up for someone; you will be further delayed, possibly even refused passage. So, they have concluded, it is best they keep their eyes down and do as they’re told – which is what they did that day in the unremitting heat. People around me were in astoundingly good spirits in spite of the temperature. They kept offering me hope. They reassured me that it would be much quicker and nicer on the Zimbabwean side.
They said the queue would move once the shift changed at two o’clock. At about half-past two, the queue did indeed move, and with pace. The long backlog suddenly dissolved and we were all through. We passed each other again on the Zimbabwean side, which was indeed much quicker and friendlier, and they smiled as if to say they had told me so.
Beit Bridge is evidently straining under the pressure of vast numbers of migrants coming through the border. Instead of having an efficient system in place – with clear procedures and rules that can cope with these challenges – the South African Department of Home Affairs is running a system that is not only uncaring but also corrupt, judging by the way touts are able to work the system.
While I waited in the hot sun, I looked at the Home Affairs Twitter feed. They had retweeted the Presidency (see @PresidencyZA) as President Ramaphosa visited the department head office in Tshwane. The Presidency said: “Our Immigration Services are the first point of contact through which people from around the world experience the spirit and personality of our nation. This is where people are exposed for the first time to ubuntu and the warmth of our hospitality.”
What I saw was about as far from ubuntu or warm hospitality as I could imagine and I felt ashamed to think that this is how we treat people from our northern neighbour.

Emigration guide: from Australia to Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA

Enough, already — hands up who has Brexit fatigue. The political purgatory as Britain attempts to leave the European Union is utterly exhausting. So if you want to get on with your life and escape the entire continent, where do you go?
So sick of Brexit that you want to flee Europe altogether? You’re not alone: more and more Britons are emigrating even further afield.
Some 4.275m UK-born people live abroad, according to hot-off-the-press statistics from the United Nations. The top destination is Australia, with more than 1.262m Brits — up from 1.206m in 2015, the year before the EU referendum. Second is the US, with 716,260 people originally from our shores. Also featuring in the top 10 in the UN list are New Zealand (272,436 Brits), South Africa (131,310) and Canada (77,494). All these countries have seen their UK-born populations grow since we elected to part ways with…

Home Affairs wants to go easier on visa applications – after rejecting 36,000 last year

Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi has released new statistics outlining the number of people that have been denied a visa to South Africa.
Answering during a recent parliamentary Q&A session, Motsoaledi said that 27,772 visas were denied in 2017 while 36,452 applications were denied in 2018.
Further data provided by Motsoaledi said that the majority of these denied requests came from Nigerian nationals with a total of 13,259 combined rejections for 2017 and 2018.
Zimbabwe had the next highest amount of rejections (7,996), followed by Pakistan (7,477).
It should be noted that this data does not account for the total number of applicants from each country which will have a direct impact on the number of applications that are rejected.
You can find a more detailed breakdown of the countries with the most denied applicants below.
Rank Country 2017 2018 Combined total
1 Nigeria 5 928 7 331 13 259
2 Zimbabwe 2 984 5 012 7 996
3 Pakistan 2 724 4 753 7 477
4 India 2 671 3 726 6 397
5 Bangladesh 1 875 3 340 5 215
6 China 1 874 1 712 3 586
7 Other (asylum/refugees) 851 1 051 1 902
8 Democratic Republic of Congo 721 961 1 682
9 Ghana 770 884 1 654
10 Cameroon 613 696 1 309
Visa access
While Motsoaledi did not specify why these visas were denied, he has indicated that his department is working on a number of changes to South Africa’s visa regime in an effort to make the country more accessible for visitors.
He said that the country is also looking to attract investors and people with skills that are critical to building the economy.
Presenting at the monthly Presidential Working Committee on Monday (7 October), Motsoaledi said that his department has lowered turnaround times for critical work skills visas, which are now issued within four weeks in 88.5% of applications.
By comparison, business and general work visas are issued within eight weeks in 98% of applications.
“In November, the Department of Home Affairs will embark on a pilot scheme for the issuing of e-visas, which applicants will be able to access online, eliminating the need for applicants to visit South African missions abroad.
“The department has also located visa services within the offices of various investment facilitation agencies around the country.
“In addition, visa requirements have been simplified for countries such as China and India, which are key markets for tourism to South Africa,” he said.

Home Affairs’ ban on asylum seekers getting married is unconstitutional, SCA rules

If you are an asylum seeker whose application for asylum in terms of Section 21 of the Refugee Act has not been finalised, you are still permitted to enter into a marriage. The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) affirmed this in a judgment handed down in October.


A case was brought by asylum seeker Emmanuel Ochogwu, whose application for refugee status has been pending with the Refugee Appeal Board for over six years. He is a Christian pastor who fled the religious persecution of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

During the prolonged delay in finalising his application, Ochogwu formed a relationship with Zizipho Nkumanda. The two married in terms of customary law. In 2016, they approached Home Affairs to register their customary marriage in terms of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act and conclude a civil marriage under the Marriage Act. This is a practice commonly adopted by customary law spouses to ensure full legal recognition of their union.

The parties were asked to prove the existence of the customary marriage and provide Ochogwu’s asylum permit for verification. They complied, providing an affidavit from Nkumanda’s father, confirming the conclusion of a customary marriage and Ochogwu’s latest asylum seeker permit.

On Valentine’s Day 14 February 2017, the couple returned to Home Affairs to finalise their marriage. But Home Affairs indicated that a recently published circular from the Deputy Director for Civic Services prohibited the marriages for asylum seekers whose applications for asylum were not finalised.

Dismayed, the couple approached the Eastern Cape Division High Court for relief.

High Court

The couple argued that the circular was an unconstitutional infringement of their rights to equality and dignity. Also, they argued that the circular infringed international law treaties on the rights of asylum seekers. These international laws, which South Africa has signed and ratified, expressly prohibit the prejudicial conduct of Home Affairs.

Highlighting the unreasonableness of Home Affairs’s conduct, the couple pointed out that the Refugee Appeal Board had been defunct for two years, resulting in Ochogwu waiting for a decision for over five years.

Home Affairs argued that the applicants should wait for a decision by the Refugee Appeal Board. Also, they argued that the applicants marriage was fraudulent to secure residency rights for Ochogwu. But Home Affairs provided no evidence for this.

After considering the arguments, the High Court concluded that the circular infringed the applicants’ rights to equality and was therefore unconstitutional. The court ordered that the parties should be allowed to marry. The respondents appealed.

Supreme Court of Appeal

The SCA considered two main issues. First, the legal status of the Home Affairs circular. Second, whether the ban on marriage for asylum seekers was unconstitutional.

Home Affairs argued that a circular is not a law and therefore the court cannot review it. But the court said that a circular is meant to guide officials in implementing government policy. The SCA noted that a similar argument had been used in the case of Ahmed v Minister of Home Affairs. The Constitutional Court in that case rejected the argument stating that it was not important to decide whether a circular was a law or not. What was important, the Constitutional Court concluded, was whether it was treated as a law by those responsible for implementing it. Put differently, if Home Affairs used the circular to give or deprive people of their rights (as laws do), then the court can review it.

The advocate representing Home Affairs argued that considering the circular as a whole, it did not bar asylum seekers from getting married. The words of the circular, he said, affirmed the right of asylum seekers to marry but only sought to guide marriage officers in concluding marriages and prevent marriages involving undocumented immigrants.

The SCA disagreed. The court took particular note of the sections of the circular that read: “refugees whose asylum application is pending cannot contemplate marriage” and “should there be an inquiry to a refugee or asylum seeker status, the marriage cannot be concluded”. The SCA concluded that these sections clearly deny asylum seekers the right to marry. Also, the court said, an interpretation that denied Ochogwu the right to marry is how the circular was understood by Home Affairs officials.

The SCA said that all interpretations of fundamental rights, such as the right to equality, must acknowledge the constitutional value of dignity. The court found it unacceptable that the wording of the circular was contradictory — the circular affirmed the right of asylum seekers to marry in one sentence, only to deny the right in the next. The court quoted the judgment of Minister of Home Affairs v Watchenuka, where the Constitutional Court stated “human dignity has no nationality”.

The SCA referred to judgments of the Constitutional Court that speak to the importance of marriage as a social institution for the expression of one’s dignity and autonomy – “it offers a social and legal shrine for love and for commitment and for a future shared with another human being”.

Court rebukes Home Affairs

The SCA’s conclusion also included a scathing rebuke of Home Affairs. The court said that judicial precedent required the state to respect the law, to fulfil procedural requirements and to tread respectfully when dealing with rights. The court found Home Affairs had failed dismally to achieve these constitutional imperatives. The court described Home Affairs’s conduct as “inexcusable and deserving of censure”. It said that Home Affairs officials were lucky to not have been called upon to personally pay the costs of litigation.

The court took particular exception to Home Affairs questioning the legitimacy of the couple’s marital relationship without advancing any evidence. A punitive cost order was made as a mark of the court’s displeasure.