South Africa

Work to revamp the asylum system begins in South Africa

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Over 153,000 asylum seekers who have been waiting many years for a decision on their applications for asylum will have their cases heard and decided, thanks to a new agreement signed today by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the Department of Home Affairs of the Republic of South Africa. The USD 9.6 million agreement (USD 2.6M from Department of Home Affairs and USD 7M from UNHCR) sets in motion a project to eliminate delays and the backlog in asylum decisions in a bid to revamp the refugee management system by 2024.

The Government and people of South Africa have a proud tradition of a welcoming and inclusive approach to people seeking asylum, as enshrined in the country’s constitution and laws. For decades, the country, known for championing human rights, has been a generous host to people fleeing conflict and persecution from across the African continent and beyond.

Problems in the asylum system led to some claims being stuck for over a decade waiting to be heard. Of the 266,694 refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa, two-thirds of them do not have access to the full rights and privileges of refugee status.

Under the Asylum Decisions Backlog Elimination Project, 153,391 cases will be processed over the next four years. Once their claims are processed those who will be recognised as refugees will be free not only to access national services on a par with citizens, but also to become valuable contributors to South African society and the development of the country. “We welcome the Government’s determination to revamp the asylum system in South Africa, and their openness to working with UNHCR on eliminating the backlog,” said UNHCR’s Representative in South Africa, Mr.
Leonard Zulu. “Changes to policy and strengthening administrative procedures are vital for a fair and effective asylum system and for the public to have trust in the architecture of refugee management, and the institution of asylum. The work we have started will also ensure that those who are in need of international protection have their refugee status recognised as quickly as possible.” “This project also supports efforts to maintain social cohesion between refugee and host communities,” continued Mr. Zulu. These communities have suffered so much under the COVID-19 pandemic, this project is needed now more than ever.” A strong asylum system is an institution of democracy and human rights. The Backlog Project will make the system more robust and safeguard it against abuse. “This is welcome news,” says Valentin Tapsoba, Director of UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Southern Africa. “I applaud the Government and people of the Republic of South Africa in not only identifying problems in the decision-making process of asylum applications but partnering with UNHCR to resolve them. This is truly in keeping with the spirit of ubuntu and inclusivity South Africa is known for.” UNHCR’s South Africa Representation and Multi-Country Office is active in eight countries in addition to South Africa: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia, plus the Indian Ocean Islands of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles. There are 275,800 refugees and asylum seekers in the nine countries.

For more information, please contact:

Kate Pond, +27 68 566 7263, pondk@unhcr.org