South Africa 23.7.2015 03:11 pm

Fleecing the forlorn

Queues at Marbastad Refugee Reception Office. 
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the African Center for Migration and Society at Wits have launched a report examining corruption within South Africa's asylum system, most notably within the country's five refugees offices.
Pic: LHR

Queues at Marbastad Refugee Reception Office. Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the African Center for Migration and Society at Wits have launched a report examining corruption within South Africa's asylum system, most notably within the country's five refugees offices. Pic: LHR

Pay up or go undocumented. This is the corrupt asylum system at South Africa’s refugee offices, making life even more difficult for an already marginalised group in society.

A report into the “rampant corruption” within the system exposes significant levels of crookery, with access, documentation, status and renewal requests having all been linked to some form of payment.

The country’s five refugee reception offices under the Home Affairs department show that just less than one third of people had experienced being asked to pay money for services inside or outside of the offices, according to the report by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the African Center for Migration & Society (ACMS) at Wits University.

Entitled: Queue Here for Corruption: Measuring Irregularities in South Africa’s Asylum System, found that in many cases individuals are left being undocumented after being offered a “choice of paying” for this service.

“Across all five refugee reception offices, just less than one third of respondents had experienced being asked to pay money inside or outside a refugee reception office; and those who had experienced it had been asked an average of 4.4. times,” according to the report.

Marabastad refugee reception office in Pretoria shows the highest rate of corruption, and the Durban branch the lowest rate.

Security guards, interpreters, refugee reception officers, refugee status determination officers, police officers and private brokers were all fingered in the report, which also identified a number of administrative problems in the asylum process, thus creating opportunities for corruption.

“LHR and ACMS highlighted unwieldy queue management, poor quality status determination procedures, and arbitrary discretion in issuing documents and renewals as key issues of concern in this regard.”

The report recommends that the department reassess the overall system, and move to an electronic method for processes to take place.

The Chatsworth Transit Camp on June 30, 2015 in Chatsworth, South Africa. The eThewini Municipality finally closed down the refugee camp following a three month stay by foreign nationals who were stranded at the outbreak of the xenophobic attacks. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Tebogo Letsie)

The Chatsworth Transit Camp on June 30, 2015 in Chatsworth, South Africa. The eThewini Municipality finally closed down the refugee camp following a three month stay by foreign nationals who were stranded at the outbreak of the xenophobic attacks. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Tebogo Letsie)

Among other concerns, corruption:

  • Affects the ability of individual to obtain their South African and international rights to refugee protection.
  • Has implications for the whole South African public service as it risks producing a system where the behaviour of public officials is removed from legal guarantees and the principles of equality, fairness, and accountability.
  • Delinks deliberation of refugee status from actual evaluation of refugee protection needs, thereby providing a mechanism for economic migrants to enter the country and regularise their status.
  • Undermines government’s professed migration management goals at a time when the government is devoting greater resource to border control and deportation.
  • “It is precisely those migrants whose entry the government is seeking to control who can undermine these controls by engaging with corrupt officials, security guards and other brokers.”

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Refugee Reception Offices and the number of respondents:

1. Marabastad (Pretoria) – 208
2. Tshwane Interim Refugee Reception Office – 204
3. Cape Town – 175
4. Musina – 205
5. Durban – 136

Findings:

13% of respondents reported being asked for money by a border official.
20% of respondents reported experiencing corruption in the queue. At Marabastad, 51% reported experiencing corruption in the queue.
13% of respondents reported being unable to access an office because they did not pay. At Marabastad, 30% reported being denied access because they did not pay.
13% of respondents experienced corruption inside the refugee reception office. Inside Marabastad, this number was 31%.
12% of respondents had paid at least once to renew their asylum permit. At Marabastad, 24% had paid at least once.
20% of respondents had been asked for money to resolve the issue they were at the office on that day to resolve. At Marabastad, this number was 47%.
56% of respondents had been in the system for over 180 days

 

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