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WC High Court rules certain provisions of Refugees Act must be suspended

These govern the return of asylum seekers back to their home country because they're merely a month late in renewing a visa.

FILE: The foreign nationals, among them refugees, had been staging a sit-in at the Methodist Church in the Cape Town CBD and demanding they be helped to leave South Africa. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/EWN

CAPE TOWN - The Western Cape High Court has ruled that certain provisions of the Refugees Act must be suspended.

These govern the return of asylum seekers back to their home country because they're merely a month late in renewing a visa.

The Scalabrini Centre took the Department of Home Affairs to court regarding certain sections of recently changed refugee laws.

The suspended provisions are commonly referred to as the 'abandonment provisions'.

The centre was represented on a pro bono basis by Norton Rose Fulbright.

The Scalabrini Centre went to court to challenge the constitutionality of the 'abandonment clauses' in the new refugee law, which states that an asylum-seeker whose documentation expires for a month or more may face arrest and deportation, as their claims would be considered 'abandoned'.

In that challenge, the centre first sought to interdict the department from implementing the provisions, pending the full hearing of the constitutional challenge.

The centre has now been successful in the initial part of that litigation.

The Refugee Amendment Act came into effect on 1 January 2020, however, civil society bodies raised concerns over several aspects of the new law.

Scalabrini's Sally Gandar said not only did they find this problematic but it also left asylum seekers vulnerable in the country.

“What it will do is give them further protection and strengthen South Africa to international refugee law and the principle that they do not return someone to a country where they face prosecution or harm.”

Gandar said in the light of COVID-19 conditions, the refugee reception offices were not open to renewing documents and even though there was an extension by the department, it may result in issues next year.

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