Friday, November 25, 2005

REFUGEE STATUS IN SOUTH AFRICA?

Refugees battle to get legal in SA.

A report by Human Rights Watch says South African officials cannot cope with the numbers of refugees coming into the country, with the result that thousands spend years in a twilight legal status. The BBC's Justin Pearce spoke to some asylum seekers in Johannesburg.
Noel was asked to pay a bribe to get his asylum seeker's permit.Noel Maluka says he decided to leave the Democratic Republic of Congo after he was stabbed in the face by Congolese security forces - losing the sight in his left eye during the assault. He says he was attacked in April during an anti-government demonstration in Kinshasa by his party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).
A relative paid for him to fly to South Africa, where he hoped to gain refugee status on the grounds of political persecution. When he went to the Pretoria office of Home Affairs - the government department that deals with immigration - a man he describes as "security" demanded a payment of R200 ($30) to be allowed in to have his application processed. He didn't have the money. After receiving some money from relatives back in Kinshasa, he decided instead to try another office.
"I went to Durban - there it was free, even if you had to spend the night outside the office." The Durban office also offered the services of a translator, something that was absent in Pretoria - like many asylum seekers in South Africa, Mr Maluka does not speak English. Mr Maluka now has to travel the 600km to Durban every time he needs to renew his permit. This is usually once every two months, though other asylum seekers say they have had their permits renewed sometimes for three months and sometimes only for one month.
"Who are we to tell them what to do?" says another Congolese asylum seeker, who gave her name as Mamie. "If they want to, they can give you only five days or a week." On one occasion when she went to renew her permit, Mamie says she once spent a week sleeping outside the Home Affairs office in Johannesburg to try to get to the front of the queue

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