Cape Town Refugee Reception Office: Our Response to Home Affairs’ Media Briefing


The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town (SCCT) and Somali Association of South Africa (SASA) remain deeply concerned regarding the misleading nature of yesterday’s media statement issued by the Department of Home Affairs regarding the opening of a fully functional Refugee Reception Office in Cape Town. The statement reads in part that ‘the Department of Home Affairs has no intention to disregard the judicial directive and we will duly respect the judgement. In this regard, we have commenced with plans to comply with the order.’ Unfortunately, the Department has yet to comply with any aspect of the order, and it is misleading to state otherwise.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) found the Department’s decision to close the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (CTRRO) to new applications for asylum be ‘substantively unlawful and irrational’ and ordered the Department to re-open and maintain a fully functional Refugee Reception Office in the Cape Town metropolitan area by 31 March 2018; it further ordered the Department to report monthly on its progress in complying with the order.

To date, the CTRRO remains closed to new asylum applicants and the Department has failed to file any reports on its progress.

While we welcome the Department’s engagement on the matter, and recognise the significant logistical and practical task at hand, we would like to stress that the deadline of 31 March 2018 was set by the SCA in September 2017. The Constitutional Court’s refusal to hear the appeal was communicated in December 2017. As the Department has failed to re-open the office before the 31 March deadline, or submit progress reports on its plans and progress towards re-opening, the Department has not complied with the order.

By flouting the deadlines set by the SCA, the Department cannot claim to ‘uphold its constitutional obligation to those in need of protection from any form of persecution’. The lack of adherence to the SCA judgement, and the ongoing ambiguity around the re-opening of the CTRRO, is but the latest example in a pattern of disregard for judicial processes. The Port Elizabeth RRO was similarly closed unlawfully by the Department in 2011 as confirmed by the SCA in 2015. In that case, the SCA also ordered the facility to be re-opened in 2015; despite this judgment, and the harm the closures have caused for many refugees, the Port Elizabeth RRO also remains closed today.

These judgments have shown how the Department has crippled the asylum system by unlawfully closing RROs for ulterior purposes and subsequently implementing restrictive policies. Currently in Cape Town, the Department is now issuing asylum seekers with expired permits with administrative fines for not renewing their permits, yet it has been the Department who was refusing to renew these permits unlawfully. This conduct exemplifies the barriers constructed by the Department and the difficulties asylum seekers have faced in recent years.

The continued closure of the CTRRO has had a detrimental impact on the refugee community in Cape Town as well as the integrity of the asylum process. Denying newcomer asylum seekers access to documentation denies access to their basic rights, and creates conditions where vulnerable asylum seekers can be exploited. We are speaking with our legal representatives, the Legal Resources Centre, to find the best solution to ensure the orders are adhered to and that asylum seekers are able to access the Cape Town RRO as soon as possible.

We recall the words of Judge Ponnan who remarked in the Port Elizabeth RRO closure judgment that:
[It is a most dangerous thing for a litigant, particularly a State department and senior officials in its employ, to willfully ignore an order of court. After all there is an unqualified obligation on every person against, or in respect of, whom an order is made by a court of competent jurisdiction to obey it unless and until that order is discharged. It cannot be left to the litigants to themselves judge whether or not an order of court should be obeyed. There is a constitutional requirement for complying with court orders and judgments of the courts cannot be any clearer on that score. No democracy can survive if court orders can be shunned and trampled on as happened here.]

We remain concerned about the non-compliance by the Department and then stating to comply with international conventions when orders of the court have been ignored. We believe that a government departments must be held to a higher standard and call on the Department begin a transparent process to re-open both the Cape Town and Port Elizabeth RROs in line with the orders of the SCA, the Refugees Act, and the Constitution.

For more information, please contact:
Miranda Madikane (SCCT)
021 465 6433

Corey Johnson (SCCT)
021 465 6433

Abdikadir Mohamed (SASA)
021 917 273