Refugees vs Home Affairs, judgment reserved

Judgment has been reserved in the Eastern Cape High Court in a battle between Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the Home Affairs Department.

This concerns a decision by the director general of Home Affairs to close a Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in Port Elizabeth.

LHR has approached the court to have the office reopened after it was closed in October 2011. The lobby group has argued that the decision to close it was unreasonable, irrational and materially affected by irrelevant considerations.

It has also stated in court papers that there was no proper consultation with the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs nor was there proper consultation with the public.

But the department has hit back saying a meeting was held with SCRA on 30 May 2012. It stated, in court papers, that the committee was “closely involved in the process leading to the closure of the PERRO and was engaged in regular informal consultation with the second respondent (Director General Home Affairs) prior to the meeting of 30 May 2012.”

Home Affairs adds, the argument of public consultation does not apply because “the second respondent’s (Director General Home Affairs) decision is not one that affects the rights of “the public”. The public is defined as including “a group or class of the public.”

The ministry also says argued that “those affected by the decision are potential asylum seekers who were not in the country at the time the decision was taken. It was not possible to consult them.”

The office has remained closed to new applications but the department says existing applications will be processed. The same procedure applies to the Cape Town and Johannesburg offices, which are also closed. Only three Refugee Reception Offices are open in the country, those being in Durban, Pretoria and Musina.