Supreme Court Of Appeal Rules Cape Town RRO Closure Unlawful

This is a press release originally released by Legal Resource Centre, see here.

For Imme­di­ate Release: 29 Sep­tem­ber 2017

The Depart­ment of Home Affairs given until March 2018 to reopen and main­tain a fully func­tional refugee office in Cape Town.

Today, 29 Sep­tem­ber 2017, in the Supreme Court of Appeal, a deci­sion taken by the Depart­ment of Home Affairs (DHA) to close the Cape Town Refugee Recep­tion Office (CTRRO) was declared unlaw­ful.

This deci­sion comes after the Legal Resources Cen­tre, on behalf of the Scal­abrini Cen­tre, the Somali Asso­ci­a­tion for South Africa and asy­lum seek­ers, appealed a deci­sion by the West­ern Cape High Court which sup­ported the DHA’s deci­sion, despite oppo­si­tion to the clo­sure from civil soci­ety and asy­lum seek­ers and fol­low­ing two pre­vi­ous High Court orders and a Supreme Court of Appeal order declar­ing its clo­sure unlaw­ful.

The ear­lier SCA judg­ment in Scal­abrini I was handed down in 2012 after the deci­sion was suc­cess­fully chal­lenged. The SCA, how­ever, gave the Direc­tor Gen­eral of the DHA an oppor­tu­nity to con­sider afresh the future of the CTRRO, after con­sult­ing with inter­ested par­ties.

After con­sult­ing with inter­ested par­ties, includ­ing a num­ber of civil soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions, and going against the unan­i­mous view that the clo­sure of the CTRRO would impact on the human rights of asy­lum seek­ers, the DHA made a deci­sion for a sec­ond time, on the 31 Jan­u­ary 2014, to close the CTRRO.

Our clients approached the High Court again, request­ing it to review and set aside the deci­sion, argu­ing that it is unlaw­ful and uncon­sti­tu­tional.

In its argu­ments to the High Court in Scal­abrini II, the DHA empha­sised the pro­cure­ment dif­fi­cul­ties and costs asso­ci­ated with open­ing an RRO. The Court found in favour of DHA and the judg­ment was taken on appeal.

In the Supreme Court of Appeal judg­ment handed down today, the Court found that the deci­sion to close the Cape Town Refugee Recep­tion Office is irra­tional and unlaw­ful. The Court found that the DG had ignored rel­e­vant fac­tors when mak­ing his deci­sion and that there is a level of demand and need for the CTRRO that must be con­sid­ered, refer­ring to the back­logs in the office. It stated that, “He also failed to prop­erly con­sider whether the Cape Town Refugee Recep­tion Office was nec­es­sary for the pur­poses of the [Refugees] Act.”

The Court found that the con­tentions of the DHA that there were dif­fi­cul­ties obtain­ing premises, that the Refugees Act does not allow for satel­lite offices and that “sub­stan­tial addi­tional resources are required…have no merit”. The SCA also referred to the inter­na­tional oblig­a­tions of the DHA in pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for refugees and asy­lum seek­ers to exer­cise their rights.

It should be noted that the Court viewed askance the fail­ure of the DHA to imple­ment pre­vi­ous court orders.

The Depart­ment of Home Affairs has been given until March 2018 to reopen and main­tain a fully func­tional refugee office in Cape Town. The Court has also requested peri­odic updates from the DHA as to progress being made.

This judg­ment is cru­cial in uphold­ing the rights and dig­nity of asy­lum seek­ers and refugees, who have been prej­u­diced by the pol­icy deci­sions of the DHA. The abil­ity of asy­lum seek­ers to access RROs to apply for per­mits and to sup­port them­selves and their fam­ily, as well as inte­grate into their com­mu­nity while their asy­lum appli­ca­tions are processed, is crit­i­cally impor­tant if an asy­lum seeker is to enjoy their human rights.

“From our per­spec­tive, the urban RRO is incred­i­bly impor­tant for the func­tion­ing of the asy­lum sys­tem – since this unlaw­ful clo­sure in 2012, asy­lum seek­ers have strug­gled immensely in access­ing the most basic ser­vices with grave con­se­quences. The RRO clo­sure has meant asy­lum seek­ers and their fam­i­lies must travel long dis­tances to the remain­ing three RROs every three to six months while they wait for their claims to be processed, which takes many years includ­ing appeals. This results in many asy­lum seek­ers being unable to keep their doc­u­men­ta­tion valid. The clo­sure of urban RROs has under­mined the asy­lum process, which is not in the national inter­est.” Miranda Madikane — Direc­tor, Scal­abrini Cen­tre