Refugee and migrant rights programme rmrp additional information


Established in 1996 LHR's Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme is a specialist programme that advocates, strengthens and enforces the rights of asylum-seekers, refugees and other marginalised categories of migrants in South Africa.


The programme team consists of eight lawyers, a social worker, two paralegals and two administrators who operate from the programme's legal advice offices in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth.

The programme provides free legal services to indigent asylum-seekers, refugees and migrant clients. Litigation is used as a tool to advance our clients' rights and to develop African jurisprudence in the field of refugee and immigration law. The programme's litigation programme focuses on impact litigation with precedent-setting value.

For more information on our Strategic Litigation Unit, click here.

LHR also undertakes vigorous detention monitoring which documents the human rights abuses suffered by migrants in the detention and deportation process and advocates for policy reform. Legal assistance is also given to those who have been unlawfully arrested and who are at risk of deportation.

LHR is also an active member of the International Detention Coalition. For more information on this campaign, click here.

Understanding that humane laws and policies do not always automatically translate into humane law enforcement, the project has developed training programmes for government employees who work directly with refugees and immigrants. LHR regularly undertakes training of social workers, police officers and refugee communities on the rights and needs of refugees and migrants.

Funding for this project is provided by the following donors:

  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 
  • Foundation for Human Rights
  • Atlantic Philanthropies
  • The Sigrid Rausing Trust
  • European Union


LHR first became actively interested in refugee issues in August 1996, acting on a request for assistance from local church groups, who were sheltering a large group of refugees and asylum seekers from various countries and wanted to understand these persons' legal position.

Further investigations led to the lodging of a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and establishment by LHR of the "Refugee Rights Consortium", an informal association of NGOs.In November 1996, LHR, along with the University of Witwatersrand Rural Facility's Refugee Research Programme, organised a workshop to discuss critical issues of concern.

The Asylum and Naturalisation: Concerns Regarding Policies and Practices workshop was attended by representatives from a number of South African NGOs, UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, IOM and the Departments of Home Affairs, Correctional Services and Safety and Security (Border Police). There was much open discussion and a number of recommendations were made, some of which have since been implemented in whole or in part by the Department of Home Affairs. A document from the workshop was produced by LHR.The Refugee Rights Project was established as a full-time project in May of 1997, co-ordinated from LHR's Head Office in Pretoria.

In addition to much advocacy and lobbying work, the Programme has advised and/or represented a number of individuals, primarily on asylum-related matters but occasionally on immigration or citizenship-related issues.

The Programme has also networked with a number of refugee law and advocacy groups in other countries, including the Netherlands where it established a South / North networking initiative in 1998. In that same year, a major international conference was organised by the project in Pretoria.

With the coming into force of the Refugees Act of 1998 in April 2000, and the opening of five Refugee Reception Offices throughout the country, the Refugee Rights Project extended to cover other geographical areas in addition to Gauteng.

The programme operates out of the Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth LHR offices. Each of these offices provides legal advice and counselling to asylum-seekers and refugees. 

LHR has contributed to a number of policy processes relating to migration and refugee policy. Copies of some of these documents can be found on this site.

LHR regularly conducts, collects and disseminates research, particularly on the legal and constitutional position of refugees, asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants in South Africa. It also makes presentations for NGOs, universities and at conferences on the subject of human rights and refugee protection.

Finally, the programme actively participates in the Consortium for Refugee Migrants in South Africa, which consists of service-provider NGOs, the UNHCR, and various specialist research institutes.

The initiative focuses on developing service delivery, developing and lobbying for the implementation of rights-regarding refugee protection policy and developing national initiatives to combat xenophobia.