Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, on Friday officially re-opened the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Centre, which is now housed in a new building.
In 2011, the Department of Home Affairs closed the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Centre after apparently uncovering abuse of the system by migrants.
It had also argued that it made sense that new asylum seekers make their applications at South Africa’s ports of entry – and not when they are already inside the country. It also pointed out that most asylum seekers did not use Port Elizabeth as a point of entry.
However, the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that the closure of the centre was unconstitutional following a legal challenge brought by human rights activists. That is despite the centre serving a relatively small percentage of asylum seekers.
Still, the closure left many local refugees and asylum holders in despair as they were forced to travel to Pretoria regularly for their asylum checks.
Home Affairs tried to appeal the ruling, which was dismissed with costs by the Constitutional Court.
Thereafter, the Department of Home Affairs together with the Department of Public Works decided on a new location to build the new office with assistance from the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office opened
Home Affairs Director-General, Mkuseli Apleni, officially opened part of the centre in June 2018, which has been operating ever since, but new applications were not accepted.
Following the opening on Friday by Gigaba, from Monday morning new asylum seekers and refugees will be allowed to use the state-of-the art Refugee Centre.
“Refuges are properly documented – for one to be called a ‘refugee’, by law, they must have undergone the process of status determination, which commenced with asylum applications,” Gigaba said in his address.
“Not all immigrants are refugees, but all refugees are immigrants, and whereas there are some immigrants, who may not be documented, but it is blatantly untrue that all immigrants in South Africa are undocumented and thus ‘illegal’.”
He added that as government they aim to strengthen the capacity to manage the challenges to the asylum system occasioned by the number of economic migrants, who take advantage of the asylum seeker process to regularize their stay in South Africa.
Speaking on behalf of all refugees, Nassir Musa, from the East London Refugees Association, said: “This centre is going to help to ease the constraints we had on the previous office because there was not enough space and were having difficulties in assisting the asylum seekers.”
Although Musa hasn’t used the centre yet since it was opened in June, he said that he was very excited, adding that it was a top-class refugee centre.
Speaking for the Eastern Cape refugee centre that deals with social cohesion and migrants, Sweetness Spullen, said: “We receive a lot of complaints from refugees and asylum seekers, who were depending on other Provinces for their needs.
“This will make their lives easy because now they will be able to get services here.”
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