Archive from May, 2021

Zimbabwe: Home Affairs silent as 180 000 foreign nationals await permit

The four-year Zimbabwe Exemption Permit lapses in December and the South African government has not yet indicated if it will renew it.
Thousands of holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) are living in uncertainty because the South African government has not yet indicated whether it will renew their permits. About 180 000 Zimbabweans hold ZEPs. The four-year permit expires on 31 December 2021.
Some Zimbabweans said their banks had already warned them to renew their permits or face closure of their accounts in December.
The permits were first issued in 2010 under the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (ZDP). The programme was renewed in 2014 as the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP), before the ZEP was introduced in 2017.
Zimbabwe nationals desperate to resolve ZEP renewals
A Zimbabwean, who we will only identify as Matthew, said he can’t make plans for the future. He is a supervisor at a restaurant and lives in New Brighton with his wife and two children. He has been living in South Africa for 20 years.
“I started with an asylum seeker permit before I got the ZDP, ZSP and the ZEP. I have lived in this country for the better part of my adult life. It will be heartbreaking if the government refuses to renew the permits.
“I have two bank accounts and insurance as well as burial policies. These will all go down the drain if the government refuses to extend the permits.”
He said he is established in the community and his children speak fluent Xhosa. “They identify themselves with local culture because they were born here,” he said.
Another ZEP holder said South Africa should grant citizenship to those who have lived legally in the country for five or more years.
“Some people have invested a lot in the country. Others have bought immovable property, which they will be forced to leave,” he said.
Home Affairs mum on ongoing delays
Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Migrants Support Network Chris Mapingure said, “We appeal to the Department of Home Affairs to issue a statement regarding the renewal of the ZEP.”
Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum Advocate Gabriel Shumba said he is receiving an unprecedented number of enquiries from concerned permit holders.
“It is an issue that seriously affects thousands of Zimbabweans, especially with some banks threatening to close accounts.”

The end of the road: Refugee leaders deported as Cape Town camps earmarked for closure

The refugees locked themselves inside the Central Methodist Church and refused to move on day seven of the lockdown on 2 April 2020. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach) Less
The window is closing for refugees and asylum seekers protesting in Cape Town to either reintegrate into local communities or repatriate. But a small group of ‘hardliners’ are holding on to the vain hope of resettlement to Canada – a promise made to them by persuasive leaders who have since been deported or imprisoned.
Jean-Pierre Balous, Papy Sukami and Aline Bukuru made headlines as the leaders of an ongoing protest against xenophobic violence in South Africa.
In the demonstration, which began in October 2019 outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cape Town, hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers demanded resettlement to Canada.
After being forcibly removed from the UNHCR offices, the group occupied the Central Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square. This continued until the Covid-19 pandemic struck when the group, which had split into two factions, was moved to separate, temporary shelters at Paint City and Wingfield.
The camps are now earmarked for closure on 15 May.
Protesters who had pinned their hopes on a one-way ticket to Canada are now left with two options: To reintegrate into communities in and around Cape Town, or be voluntarily repatriated to their countries of origin.
About 100 police officers had to break down the church doors to get in. The refugees were then loaded onto buses and moved to a location in Bellville. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)
Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee said 414 refugees and asylum seekers had opted for reintegration while 305 have chosen voluntary repatriation.
Those reintegrating have been offered three months’ rental and food supply.
However, concerns remain over about 350 “hardliners” who are refusing to leave the camps and continuing their demands for resettlement.
According to the committee, the hardliners are part of the faction led by Balous and his wife, Aline Bukuru, both of whom run a registered NGO called Women and Children at Concern (WCC). Balous is languishing in Prison, reportedly Pollsmoor, after he was arrested for assaulting police officers during a court appearance in early March. He is at risk of deportation once his criminal case has run its course. He is due to reappear in court in June 2021.
Bukuru was deported to Congo on 31 March, along with Sukami, the leader of the rival faction.
In total, 32 protesters have been deported since October 2020. According to Home Affairs they were undocumented persons who did not qualify for asylum and international protection.
For Sukami, who was also battling a criminal case, his asylum-seeker papers were rejected by the Refugee Appeals Authority of South Africa (Raasa).
He was arrested in January 2020 on charges of assault and robbery relating to an incident outside the UNHCR offices in October 2019. Accompanied by a few men, Sukami allegedly beat and robbed two Congolese freelance journalists.
The journalists, Serge Shaumba and Jurol Loemba, accused Sukami of being a propagandist and the ringleader of a gang.
Steered by Balous, the three protest leaders had fashioned themselves as champions for refugee rights.
On Sukami’s Twitter page he has frequently spoken out against the Department of Home Affairs, in one instance comparing xenophobia to the apartheid regime. His Twitter bio labels him as a human rights activist, an evangelist, civil engineer and chairperson of a Congolese political party called Kongomani Green.
According to the organisation’s Twitter page set up in May 2019, the party is in “exile” and based in the US, Norway, South Africa, the UK, France and Belgium.
In a social media post, Sukami said the party’s objectives were to protect Congo’s environment:
During a Home Affairs parliamentary committee meeting on Tuesday, Minister Aaron Motsoaledi used Sukami’s leadership position in the Kongomani Green party to cast aspersions on his asylum-seeker claims.
“There was a story that people were running away from their countries because they were running away from persecution, yet no one is persecuting them and one is even able to form a political party. He tweeted about it for the whole world to see without the DRC chasing him away. Meaning when he came here and claimed to be a refugee, that was a lie already,” he said.
Sukami denied on social media that he had been deported but rather voluntarily repatriated to the DRC.
Congolese refugee protest leader Jean-Pierre Balous at the Cape Town High Court on 17 February 2020. The refugees had been staying in and around the Central Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square since October 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)
He had been Balous’s right-hand man until the pair had a violent falling out in December 2019, which caused a factional split. Balous was accused of raising money through his non-profit WCC for personal gain.
Balous’s supporters claim the NPO pioneered the protest. According to its website, WCC, which is based in Grassy Park, Cape Town and embedded in a Christian ethos, “strives to uplift refugees and asylum seekers, especially women and children”.
Fingers were often pointed at Balous for misleading protesters into believing resettlement was imminent although the UNHCR had announced that the demand for group resettlement was not possible under international law.
Balous, who is proficient in English was often the intermediary between authorities and the protesters, a position of power that was considered exploitative.
During a court case in February 2020, where the City of Cape Town was granted a court order to remove protesters who were sleeping outside the Central Methodist Church (Sukami’s faction had been banished outside), Judge Daniel Thulare accused Balous of “abusing the right to protest” and creating a “a self-governing territory within the City of Cape Town”.
The group had initially sought shelter in the church after being forcibly removed from the UNHCR offices. They, however, overstayed their welcome and refused to leave. By the time they were relocated to Paint City and Wingfield when the country went into lockdown, they had caused approximately R600,000 worth of damage.
Balous also had a notable violent streak.
He was accused of harassing, intimidating and/or assaulting anyone who challenged his authority. New Frame reported that a number of refugee and migrant organisations in Cape Town had distanced themselves from Balous and at least three people had protection orders against him.
According to New Frame, those who know Balous claim that he and his wife had tried unsuccessfully to be resettled to a third country more than once.
Balous was also accused of instigating an attack on a delegation of faith leaders who were engaging protesters at the Central Methodist Church in November 2019. Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, SAHRC Commissioner Chris Nissen and Reverend Alan Storey were among those assaulted.
A number of people claimed that Balous had tried to gouge out the eyes of Pastor Moise Awilo, who was part of the delegation.
He was often described as a cult-like leader. Balous often used Christianity as a justification for his cause and in one instance, during a rally in the Central Methodist Church attended by Daily Maverick, Balous compared himself to Jesus. Though the migrants did not own the building, people were searched and names taken before anyone could enter the church. There was also a rule that no one except the group’s “leadership” could speak to the media.
His wife, Aline Bukuru, had initially led a similar protest in November 2019, outside the UNHCR offices in Pretoria. The protest was quashed after the group forced their way onto the UNHCR premises and were removed by police after the North Gauteng High Court granted a court order for the City of Johannesburg to enforce its by-laws.
Bukuru then made her way to Cape Town where she joined the group protesting at the Methodist Church and assumed leadership once her husband had been arrested.
Safety and security mayoral committee member JP Smith warned that the “hardliners” who refuse to leave the temporary shelters once they close down may be dealt with by the courts.
“If at the end of that there is a group that adamantly resists reintegration [at] the sites, both of which belong to the Department of Public Works, then they will be obligated to determine how to remove persons from those properties. That will have to take the form of an eviction application to the court.

Scalabrini court victory for people seeking asylum in South Africa

Scalabrini court victory for people seeking asylum in South Africa
Home Affairs has been interdicted from implementing certain provisions of the Refugees Act and new Regulations (both implemented on 1 January 2020), which sought to return asylum seekers back to their home country where they could be face detention without trial, rape, torture, or death, merely because he or she was a month late in renewing a visa.
On 30 November 2020, Judge Baartman handed down judgement in the Western Cape High Court, which suspended the operation of certain provisions of the Refugees Act, 1998 and the 2018 Regulations thereto (both of which came into effect on 1 January 2020). The suspended provisions are commonly referred to as the ‘abandonment provisions’.
The suspension will operate until the constitutional attack against the impugned provisions has been adjudicated on by the Western Cape High Court and, to the extend necessary, confirmed by the Constitutional Court.
The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, represented on a pro bono basis by Norton Rose Fulbright and Advocates David Simonsz and Nomonde Nyembe sought to prevent the short and long term operation of the abandonment provisions, as the provisions infringed on asylum seekers’ rights to life, freedom and security of person, dignity, and equality; and prevented South Africa from fulfilling its international law obligations towards refugees, including the international law principle of non-refoulement.
The abandonment provisions provided that in the event that an asylum seeker fails to renew their asylum visa timeously, their applications for asylum are deemed abandoned. Arrest and deportation would follow for individuals with valid and undecided claims for asylum; back to countries of origin where they could face death, torture, sexual violence, and other forms of persecution from which they originally fled, or to countries experiencing grave disturbances to the public order. Only where an asylum seeker has a compelling reason (and proof thereof) for delaying to renew a permit following a lapse (such as hospitalisation or imprisonment) can the Department of Home Affairs pardon the late renewal.
This is deeply problematic as it means that refugees can be returned to face persecution, without ever having the substantive merits of their asylum application determined. It also leaves asylum seekers vulnerable in South Africa as essentially undocumented foreigners who will struggle to access health care, employment and education while they await the decision of whether their reason for late renewal meets the Department of Home Affairs high threshold.
The reality for asylum seekers is that they are frequently required to renew their asylum visas. In the renewal process, they experience extraordinary delays caused by the administrative failures of the Department of Home Affairs. These are often exacerbated by socio-economic factors such as not having the means to travel to far away Refugee Reception Offices as frequently as is required, waiting in long queues at the Refugee Reception Offices, facing corruption from officials who refuse to renew visas without bribes, or the general inefficiency of the Refugee Reception Offices that are over-worked but under-staffed.
In light of these realities many asylum seekers fail to renew their visas for valid reasons. Judge Baartman delivered a powerful judgment, emphasising that the case does not involve imaginary victims – the suspended abandonment provisions affect real asylum seekers who could face serious human rights violations should the provisions continue to operate. She criticized the Department’s conduct in the case, which was characterised as regrettable and unhelpful.
The judgement will come as a relief to many asylum seekers who have been unable to renew their visas for valid reasons and will give them an opportunity to do so without the fear of being treated as an illegal foreigner and returned home. This includes many asylum seekers who may have been prevented from renewing their asylum documents prior to the pausing of services at Refugee Reception Offices during the national lockdown – a pause which is set to remain in effect until at least 31 January 2021. Scalabrini Centre, represented by Norton Rose Fulbright, firmly believes the abandonment provisions are unconstitutional and persists in a challenge to this effect.

Home Affairs commits to re-opening Cape Town Refugee Centre in 10 months

The Department of Home Affairs has committed to opening the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (CTRRO) in ten months. This has been accepted by the Scalabrini Centre and others who took the matter of the office’s closure to court.
This comes as the department conceded that it was in breach of a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that it needed to reopen the centre, and never did.
On Friday, the parties agreed to a recommendation by Western Cape High Court Acting Judge Alma De Wet that a case management system be put in place. This means that both parties will meet monthly and the department accounts for its progress in reopening the CTRRO.
The Legal Resource Centre (LRC) represented the Scalabrini Centre and the Somali Association of SA in court.
Western Cape regional director for the LRC Sherylle Dass said: “Home Affairs conceded that they were in breach of the SCA, Scalabrini order and that they failed to open up a fully functional Refugee Reception Office by the date that the court ordered.”
She added Home Affairs was making progress now: “During argument, the judge made a suggestion (of case management) Home Affairs has now filed a new lease agreement for new premises and they say by April next year they should be able to reopen.
While the LRC agreed to the terms set out by the court this matter has been ongoing since 2016 and Dass said they have their reservations: “We’ve argued that we don’t have any faith in DHA because they’ve gone through this lease agreement process before and the deal fell through.”
In a statement earlier this week, the Scalabrini Centre made it clear that they wanted a Special Master appointed to the case to ensure that Home Affairs complies with the court order. The statement reads: “DHA’s non-compliance has led the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, as applicants in the matter, to re-approach the Courts. We are seeking the appointment of a Special Master to oversee compliance to reopen the RRO.”
Dass said this would remain a legal avenue for the Scalabrini Centre should DHA not comply with the case management system agreed upon.

Cost-cutting: South Africa to close ten embassies, consulates

Ten South African diplomatic missions are set to be axed to save costs.
The South African government is expected to cut 10 of its diplomatic missions abroad, as a money-saving measure.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) is expected to announce the closures of foreign diplomatic missions soon. It is also likely to explain which ambassadors and other diplomats in nearby countries or cities will assume responsibility for diplomatic services in the countries or cities where it is closing missions.
The eight embassies to close are in Minsk in Belarus; Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago; the Holy See in the Vatican; Helsinki in Finland; Muscat in Oman; Suva in Fiji; Bucharest in Romania and Lima in Peru, sources said.
Dirco also plans to close its consulates-general in Milan, Italy and in Chicago, US. South Africa still has consulates-general in New York and Los Angeles as well as the embassy in Washington. And it will retain its embassy in Rome.
DA foreign affairs spokesperson Darren Bergman said the DA supported the trimming down of South Africa’s international Dirco footprint.
“But that means with those savings we should be able to offer better consular services in those countries via our main or neighbouring embassies. Anything less than this is a cop-out and goes against the constitutional right of South African citizens to consular services abroad.”