Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has clarified that his department is battling a backlog in appeals for refugees and asylum-seekers.
Motsoaledi briefed Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on Tuesday.
“There’s a common believe that Home Affairs has got a backlog on the processing of all refugees and asylum-seekers in the country and that is not necessarily [true]. We don’t have a backlog on people who are coming in for the first time to apply for asylum,” he told the committee.
Motsoaledi explained that the appeals process caused backlogs in the system.
“The backlog is people who have been rejected and are on appeal. In other words, people who come here asking for asylum or refugee, they get processed and after processing whatever the [outcome] is, they start an appeal process, which I must state, in our country is over-elaborate in our country.
“So for that reason there is a very big backlog on that because it is an unending appeal process,” the minister continued.
The minister further indicated that government was working on a plan with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on how to deal with the backlog.
The Department of Home Affairs operates five Refugee Reception Offices, which were closed for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, across five provinces – including the Cape Town centre which is awaiting the completion of a new office.
According to Refugee Appeals Authority of South Africa (RAASA), which is responsible for adjudicating asylum applications on appeal, one of the contributors to the backlog is the high inflow of economic migrants.
This is because current legislation did not make provisions for economic migrants, thus, the appeals were stacking up.
Furthermore, International Treaties and Conventions on asylum seekers and refugees does not have legislation to deal with economic migrants either.
“As a result of that, everyone who’s a failed asylum seeker in South Africa goes through a process of appeal. So it is what we can call an unending bureaucratic ladder.
“Everyone who is an economic migrant, if you are rejected on the first leg, you proceed to the second leg, up until the last leg,” RAASA chairperson Zilpha Raphesu said.
Approximately 133 582 asylum-seekers are still waiting the processing of their appeal application as per the National Immigration Information System.
Meanwhile, Home Affairs Deputy Director-General for Immigration Services, Yusuf Simons, told the committee that the department was embarking on strategies to recover full services in a manner that reduces the possibility of overcrowding given the backlog built over the past two years.
This includes continuation of the online extensions to reduce volumes of clients that need to visit offices and increasing capacity at the refugee offices, among other things.