Refugee Amendment Bill approved, to be published for public comment

FILE PICTURE: Maria Wamusi sits on her bed on the ground, surrounded by her worldly possessions, inside a tent at the Primrose refugee camp, east of Johannesburg, on Monday April 20. Photo by Amanda Watson

An overhaul of South Africa’s law on refugees will be tabled in Parliament towards late September, MPs heard on Tuesday, along with a warning that this meant it would not be on the statute books until sometime in 2016.

Deon Erasmus, the head of the department of home affairs’ legal services, said Cabinet’s justice and security committee at the weekend in Pretoria gave the go-ahead for the Refugee Amendment Bill to be published for public comment.

“We can go out and publish the bill for comment for the month of August and hopefully by the end of September, maybe October, we will introduce the Refugee Amendment Bill back into Parliament,” he told the legislature’s portfolio committee on home affairs. Committee chairman Lemias Mashile said this meant the bill would not become law for some time yet.

“We will go into next year on this bill,” he said, adding that Parliament usually saw a rush of finalised bills late in the year but could not process all before the long summer recess. Besides that, the refugee bill in particular was likely to see many submissions and arguments.

“We can just say put your foot on the pedal and move a bit faster because it is going to take a bit of time with us as well, and there will be many submissions to consider. It is going to be like the whole world is going to be affected by that bill.” The bill is expected to generate keen interest, coming months after the country saw a wave of xenophobic violence that claimed at least seven lives and displaced thousands.

The remarks came after the department briefed the committee about progress in amending legislation regarding opening hearings of the Refugee Appeals Board to the public. The changes to the Refugee Act were necessitated by a Constitutional Court judgment in the case of Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir after the media challenged section 25 of the act on the basis of public interest because they wanted to attend his appeal for refugee status.

The amendment seeks to confer a discretion on the Refugee Appeals Authority to allow the public and the media access to its proceedings in appropriate cases.

Tuesday’s briefing on the proposed change saw MPs and departmental officials debate the implications of a provision that states that, to open a hearing, the informed consent of the person seeking refugee status was required.

It prompted Mashile to warn that the debate on this amendment was likely to be overtaken by new refugee bill which will be a comprehensive review of all refugee legislation in the country.

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