13 April 2012
South Africa is a major receiving state for refugees and asylum seekers, currently handling around 3 500 to 4 000 new applications a month. The Department of Home Affairs has identified a huge backlog in its review of asylum refusals, but is working hard to clear it.
The department has roped in the police to help with queue management, appointed a document management company, and will extend working hours as part of efforts to clear the backlog, Director-General Mkuseli Apleni said on Thursday.
Audit uncovers massive backlog
After a recent audit, it was found that there was a backlog in the review of decisions by the Refugees Appeal Board and the Standing Committee on Review Affairs.
Apleni explained that if a person’s application for asylum was judged to be unfounded, he or she could appeal the decision with the Refugees Appeal Board.
If an application was found to be manifestly unfounded, the decision was automatically reviewed by the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs.
Apleni said the department had identified backlogs in reviewing unfounded applications by the Refugees Appeal Board in Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Marabastad, the Pretoria Showgrounds, and Musina. The backlog currently stands at 87 602.
A backlog of 68 740 in the review of manifestly unfounded applications by the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs was also found in these regions.
Apleni was hopeful that the backlog would be cleared within the next four months
Longer hours, extra hands, tight schedule
“Having acknowledged the immense challenge we face in finalising applications for asylum, we have taken a number of steps which will be effective from Monday, 16 April,” he said.
As of Monday, working hours at Home Affairs offices will be extended, with the offices operating from 7.30am to 5pm from Monday to Friday.
In addition, Refugee Reception Offices will be opened on Saturdays from 8am to 1pm until the backlog has been resolved.
The department will put in place a schedule which will see asylum seekers from specific regions being attended to on allocated days.
Those from Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries will be attended to on Mondays and Tuesdays; from East Africa on Wednesdays and Saturdays; from West Africa on Thursdays; and those from Asia and other countries will be attended to on Fridays.
Since Wednesday, members of the SA Police Service have been assisting Home Affairs with queue management. Immigration officers will also be deployed to help the police and existing security teams at Refugee Reception Offices.