Fight over refugee reception centre in court

The Home Affairs Ministry is set to be hauled before the Eastern Cape High Court tomorrow over the closure of the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office.

"Our argument includes that there was no consultation with the public (when closing the office), there was no attempt to engage with asylum seekers and refugees in Port Elizabeth or organisations representing them,” said head of Lawyers for Human Rights’ Strategic Litigation Unit, David Cote.

The department has closed offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. But the Somali Association of South Africa and the Project for Conflict Resolution and Development took the department to court in February 2012 over the Port Elizabeth closure arguing that the centre was the only one in the Eastern Cape available for asylum-seekers and refugees.

The Eastern Cape High Court then ordered the re-opening of the office but the department has kept the office closed and according to the Lawyers for Human Rights, Home Affairs had said a new decision was made in May 2012.

“All three closures (Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth offices) have been found unlawful by the courts and still they won’t accept new applicants,” said Cote.

There are currently only three Refugee Reception Offices in South Africa, Durban, Pretoria and Musina, and the department has said it plant to move offices to border lines.

“When people come to the county they would normally go to places where they know people or where there’s community but now this would mean they would have to travel to the borderlines for processing and it would be a burden to people as they would have to travel there three to four times a year,” said Cote.

The LHR has also slammed the decision to close offices as unreasonable, irrational and materially affected by irrelevant considerations.