UN Refugee Agency has obligation to help foreign nationals, says lawyer

The Western Cape Refugee and Migrant Forum believe resettlement is not a practical solution, but immigration lawyer Craig Smith supports the sit-in.

Foreign nationals pictured at the UN Refugee Agency Offices in Cape Town on 8 October 2019. The group asked the agency to help them leave South Africa. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - There's been mixed reaction to a sit-in protest staged by foreign nationals at the United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency offices in Cape Town this week.

The protesters are demanding the UN help them to leave South Africa as they fear xenophobic violence.

The Western Cape Refugee and Migrant Forum believe resettlement is not a practical solution, but immigration lawyer Craig Smith supported the sit-in.

He said the UN Refugee Agency and government have an agreement around refugees.

Smith said in this case, the agency did have an obligation to assist with solutions and resettlement.

“They sit with the difficulty that is an exceptional situation as opposed to one of the more applications that are simply granted as a course. So, they, in turn, have to find feeding countries in a place of safety.”

He said the Department of Home Affairs and the agency had failed the protesters and must make good in correcting the wrongs of the past by banning xenophobia as hate speech.

Smith suggested a task team be established: “Set up some sort of task team to ensure that these people who are sitting in no man's land are suitably vetted and adjudicated.”

The immigration lawyer added this should not cost the government as it would be something the agency would deal with.