PRESS RELEASE: Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and Lawyers for Human Rights to Challenge Unlawful Arrests of New Asylum Seekers

Today, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and Lawyers for Human Rights are set to take legal action against the Department of Home Affairs, in response to a disturbing new practice of unlawfully arresting asylum seekers at Refugee Reception Offices across South Africa. This practice, which began nationwide in November 2023, with initial incidents reported in Musina in October, undermines the fundamental principles of both domestic and international human rights and refugee law. 


Since November 2023, new applicants for asylum have been subject to arrest, detention, and deportation without the opportunity to undergo a refugee status determination interview. This process effectively denies individuals access to the asylum system, leaving them vulnerable to deportation to their home countries, where they face persecution, violence, war, detention, or even death. Such actions are a direct violation of the principle of non-refoulement, the cornerstone of refugee protection. 

Arrests stem from preliminary interviews conducted by immigration officials, who assess whether applicants have good cause for failing to enter the country through a designated port of entry and obtain an asylum transit visa at the border. The majority of applicants are found lacking good cause, resulting in their arrest for deportation. 

On 18 April 2024 Consortium of Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA), Kopanang Against Xenophobia and SARLN (the South African Refugee Led Network), with the support of the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and Lawyers from Human Rights, led a picket against the practice of arresting asylum seekers. The picket was held at Refugee Reception Offices across the country and the following demands were raised:  

  • Cease Immigration Arrests at RROs: Stop the arrest of new asylum applicants at all Refugee Reception Offices (RROs). 
  • Access to Asylum: Ensure that the asylum system is accessible without hindrance to new applicants. 
  • Non-Refoulement: Prevent the forced return of individuals to countries where they face persecution, violence, or war. 

Despite the picket, numerous letters requesting the halting of arrests and parallel advocacy for new asylum applicants continue to be arrested for deportation.   

Legal Action 

On May 24th, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town represented by Lawyers for Human Rights will present part A of the case, seeking an interdict and suspend the application of certain amendments to the Refugees Act and associated regulations. If granted, this interdict will stop the arrest and detention of asylum seekers and restore their access to the asylum system. There are good prospects of success. Part B of the case, which will be heard at a later date, will address the constitutionality of the contested provisions. 

The unlawful arrest, detention and deportation of asylum seekers is a grave violation of human rights, the Constitution and international law. The Scalabrini Centre and Lawyers for Human Rights are committed to ensuring that South Africa upholds its legal and moral obligations to protect those fleeing persecution, violence or war. 

More information 

For more information visit Scalabrini’s Detention and Deportation in South Africa webpage and infographic or LHR’s infographic.  


Contact Us 

For more information, contact: 

James Chapman 
Head of Advocacy and Legal Advice, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town 

021 465 6433 


Nabeelah Mia 

Head: Penal Reform Programme & Immigration Detention Monitoring Unit, Lawyers for Human Rights