Port Elizabeth's Refugee centre in court battle

The Port Elizabeth High Court would on Friday hear an application for review brought by the Somali Association of South Africa Eastern Cape and the Project For Conflict Resolution and Development against the Minister of Home Affairs and three of her officials.

The civil society organizations through Lawyers for Human Rights asked the court to review a decision made by the director general of the department to close a Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in Port Elizabeth.

The closure took effect from October 21, 2011, for new applicants for asylum.

Subsequently, the department set up a temporary office in Port Elizabeth to finalize all existing asylum-seeker application made prior to that date.

This is the second application made against Minister Naledi Pandor and some of her officials regarding the closure of the PE RRO.

In 2011 a first review application, concerning the initial decision to close the RRO, resulted in the court ruling it to be unlawful.

“But the department didn’t comply with that order and last year they came up with a “new decision” to close the PE RR,” Kote told The New Age.

Lawyers for Human Rights would argue that the consultation the department had with the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs (SCRA) was “flawed and improper” and the SCRA “merely rubber-stamped the department’s decision to close the PE RRO”.

They would also argue that the department decided to close the office without any public participation or consultation.
Kote said that they would also argue that the decision to close the RRO was “irrational and unreasonable.”

“The decision will significantly inhibit the ability of asylum-seekers to exercise their statutory and constitutional rights to apply for asylum and the decision was motivated by irrelevant consideration,” the court papers state.

Director of the Refugee Rights Centre in the Eastern Cape, Linton Harmse, said they would fight the department until the RRO was open and fully functional.

“Having regard for the vital function RRO’s fulfil in legalizing and regularizing the stay of refugees in the RSA,  it is indisputable that the closure of the PE RRO- the only such office in the Eastern Cape- will heap tremendous prejudice on this already vulnerable sector of our society in the Eastern Cape,” he said.

Harmse said it was important to note that the Director General’s  decision to close the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office was also reviewed and set aside in the Cape Town High Court during March 2013.

The department subsequently announced that they were in the process of appealing the judgment.

Attempts for comment from the department of Home Affairs proved unsuccessful.