Foreign nationals march for the re-opening of Cape Town Refugee Centre

While the refugee reception office remains shut, the protesters charge that in recent weeks, asylum seekers and refugee permit holders have been fined up to R5,000 for extension arrears. Photo by Mzi Velapi

To mark World Refugee Day, foreign nationals marched to Parliament to call for for the re-opening of the Cape Town Refugee Reception Centre which has remained closed despite a court ruling that it must be reopened.

Parliament of South Africa National Assembly New Wing, Parliament Street, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, South Africa

To mark World Refugee Day, foreign nationals marched to Parliament to call for for the re-opening of the Cape Town Refugee Reception Centre which has remained closed despite a court ruling that it must be reopened. In September 2017 the Supreme Court of Appeal gave the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) until March this year to reopen the centre and declared the decision by the department to close it unlawful.

Singing and chanting “Give us papers, Gigaba must fall” foreign nationals from mainly Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe say that they can’t get jobs nor access health services and their children have to drop out of school because they do not have asylum status. “Today, almost 9 months after the Supreme Court of Appeal ruling, RRO (Refugee Resettlement Office) doors are still closed,” reads the statement handed to Home Affairs officials from.

Speaking to Elitsha, Germain Ntambue from the Voice of African Changes (VAC) said that since the centre has not opened, foreign national who do not have asylum status are harassed by the police. “Instead of making sure that the centre is re-opened, the government through the police boasts about doing raids and arresting a big number of foreign nationals,” said Ntambue.

The  problem with the Department of Home Affairs according to Ntambue is a lack of communication about the re-opening of the centre. “Gigaba is not open with refugee stakeholders and that is causing problems,” he said.

Furah Mawuwa who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo said that she was told to go to either of the refugee centres in Musina or Durban since the Cape Town office could not help her. “I’m unemployed and I don’t have money to go to Musina,” said the 27-year-old mother of four. “They removed the toilets at the centre and men relieve themselves under the bridge and as a woman it’s not safe for me to do so. We have to walk long distance to get a public toilet and go back to stand in the queue again,” lamented Mawuwa.

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Alfo Kalupi who is also from the DRC said that when she applied for asylum status she was put on appeal, meaning that the department is not sure about her story. Kalupi has been on appeal since 2014. Meanwhile, Tendai Bhiza from Zimbabwe said that she wants permanent residence. She told Elitsha that most Zimbabweans have lost their jobs because they cannot renew their permits. “There are lots of people who have come to our offices seeking help because they have lost their jobs because they cannot renew their ZEPs [Zimbabwe Exemption Permits],” she said.

19-year-old Azama Damas said that she had to drop out of school because she does not have asylum status. Damas came to South Africa with her father who passed away in 2014 and she currently stays with her father’s friend. “I wanted to go study at the University of Stellenbosch or UCT but I had to drop out because when I turned 18 I had to apply for asylum and since the office is closed I could not sit for examinations,” said the former Focus College learner.

The memorandum handed to DHA officials, Ignatius Mokgele and Samuel Plaatjie, urges the Department of Education to review its decision of not allowing learners without an asylum permit to write matric examinations. “The DHA has been slow in issuing asylum permits to children reaching the age 18 and we do call upon the Department of Education to review its decision and give concerned learners the go-ahead for matric as they await Home Affairs’ process,” reads the statement.

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The memorandum also makes a call to the Home Affairs portfolio committee “to summon Minister Gigaba in order to hear from his department when the refugee reception office will reopen”.

Before handing the memorandum to the officials, Mike Alomba from the DRC told the protesters that as long as South African business and government is present and involved in the extradition of mineral wealth from the DRC they should expect more refugees from that country. “It doesn’t make sense to be a refugee in your own land. The African continent belongs to us. Out of the 86 mining companies that are doing business in the DRC, 16 of them are South African companies. For as long as they are exploiting our mineral wealth, the South African government should expect more refugees from the DRC,” said Alomba.

“They treat us like animals. All we want is to be respected as human beings and with dignity,” he said.

 

 

 

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