The asylum system in South Africa is struggling. Whilst the numbers of asylum applications in South Africa are not higher than other receiving countries (for example, Uganda and Kenya receive many more asylum applications per year), it is common for asylum seekers to spend several years in the asylum system whilst awaiting an outcome on their applications. This is detrimental to both the asylum seeker and the South African state itself. Issues of resources, staff capacity and corruption continue to affect the asylum system negatively. Asylum seekers have limited locations in which they can make application to asylum, and are sometimes provided with an appointment to return and make application for asylum (which renders them undocumented in the interim). The opening of fully functional Refugee Reception Offices that are able and equipped to deal with asylum applicants is key to a functioning asylum system. Further measures, such as extended asylum seeker permits for longer periods of time, would alleviate the pressure and allow officials to concentrate their time on substantial matters such as RSDO decisions.

Administrative bottlenecks in the asylum system are creating problems for the South African state and the asylum seekers themselves. The Refugee Appeal Board, in particular, suffers from a large backlog. Quality decisions made by the Refugee Status Determination Officers, and a Refugee Appeal Board backlog project, including group decisions, are needed to allow the asylum system to flow and ensure fair and speedy decisions on asylum applications.

The improved implementation of the Refugees Act can result in a functioning asylum system. ‘Asylum processing centres’ on the northern borders of South Africa – as envisaged in the White Paper on International Migration – are not required, nor are they they solution.