News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Sunday September 15th 2019

Home Affairs faces challenge to refugee fines policy

Faced with the August 12 expiry of his Section 22 asylum seekers permit which has to be renewed every three months, Zimbabwean Kholwani Ngwenya, 31, went to the Cape Town Refugee Reception office on August 10.

But a month later Ngwenya still hasn’t got to the front of the queue at the Maitland Home Affairs office despite returning by 6am every morning.

And he is afraid that when he does get to the official’s desk, he will face a R2.500 fine because his permit has expired.

He said on August 18 he said he watched two Zimbabwean women crying after they were each fined R2,500 for not renewing their permits before their expiry dates.

“They cried that day,” said Ngwenya.

And to add salt to the wound, their expired documents were held by Home Affairs and a renewal would not be forthcoming before they had paid what, for desperate and mostly unemployed asylum seekers, is an exorbitant fine.

It is this violation of the “basic human rights” afforded to asylum seekers and refugees under South Africa’s refugee agreements that has led the University of Cape Town’s Law Clinic to issue a letter of demand to Home Affairs urging them to reconsider this practice.

Law Clinic attorney James Chapman said before May thousands of asylum seekers and refugees were being fined even though they were one day late and some of them had permits that might have expired on a Sunday.

Submissions from the Law Clinic to Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma had halted this, but hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees were still being fined for being more than a day late even if it was due to waiting for days in queues.

Asylum seekers in possession of a Section 22 permit had to renew them every three or six months, while those with Section 24 permits granting refugee status, had to have them renewed every two years.

He said in terms of legislation Home Affairs was allowed to issue fines for late renewal, but the fact that late renewal was often not the fault of the permit holder, that Home Affairs withheld documentation until fines were paid and that the fines were unreasonably large meant the fundamental rights due to foreign nationals were being prejudiced.

“If the foreign nationals don’t pay the R2,500 they have to wait for a court date which takes months to come, if you pay the R2,500 you are admitting guilt and only then you can get you your permit back.”

In the meantime they had no documentation which left them vulnerable to arrest or exploitation.

“They can be detained. They won’t be able to go to school. They can’t access their bank accounts. They can’t pay rent. It affects their work. All their basic core rights are prejudiced.

He said if the minister did not respond to the Law Clinic’s submission they would launch an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court to declare the procedure “unlawful and unconstitutional”.

Meanwhile David Cote, strategic litigation unit coordinator at Lawyers for Human Rights in Johannesburg, said they are investigating the legality and basis for the Home Affairs fines to determine whether they were reasonable.

“There is large cost implication for people. We have received a lot of complaints…. It’s actually a major issue,” said Cote.

Home Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said he would only respond to questions sent by email. There was no reply from his office before going to press and repeated phone calls went unanswered. — Peter Luhanga, West Cape News

Tags: cape town, lawyers for human rights, maitland, Refugees, University of Cape Town

Reader Feedback

5 Responses to “Home Affairs faces challenge to refugee fines policy”

  1. Heidi Laubscher says:

    My char is from Malawi who arrived in SA in September 2009. She recently gave birth to a baby boy in Macassar near Somerset West. As her refugee document had expired (they hadn’t been processing Malawian documents for many months) she couldn’t register her baby. She spent a day at Home Affairs in Maitland where they informed her that her file could not be found. This is no fault of hers as she had already had her form stamped there earlier in 2010. She asked what her options were; could she reregister and reinstate her refugee status? She was told there was nothing she could do – she had no options. Is this true? I found that rather limiting, if not totally ludicrous.

  2. Namhla says:

    My fiance is a Malawian who arrived here 2005,He has an asylum that he had to renew every six month.He got a new job since March last year and His assylum was expiring 21 September,now the problem was that the Boss at his work never offered him any off day,he said if He did not come he’ll loose his job as we have two kids,scared to loose his job he did not go to renew.Yesterday He decided He has had enough he went to renew his permit in Maitla and and there they said they could not help him yesterday He must come today,and today one of the workers in home affairs is asking for R500 so He can give him the 6 months asylum. Now my question to you is How do He make a living and how do we survive with our kids if he has to loose his job,has no asylum and obviously he would suffer exploitation and abuse if he has a job because He dont have a permit,I am a South African and I just dont feel that this is fair for my kids and for him as he is qualified but everywhere He works they never adhere on paying him correctly.I hope that Mr Ronnie Mamoepa can have a word on this as I am just giving up on our dreams and He dont feel good as a man beause everywhere He goes he have to work harder than anyone else and the boss wont be paying him and wont allow him to have a single day off in a month to fix his papers.

  3. zamagcwabe Mkhize says:

    Its took hw many days before you pay for ur asylum because my neighborhood went to cpt to renew his before 3dayz of 15dayz after expiring date but ws told to pay. R2500. Is this constitutional. Ill appreciate if I get a response.

  4. mjomba says:

    hi,my wife was given fine for 2500 rand for 2 days.
    can i be able 2 pay 25 rand p/m? becoz i got no money.

  5. Cecillia says:

    Hi, we have expired Refugee Status, and would like to renew them, we were told to pay a fine of R3000 at the Pretoria Office and we went to the Wits University Law Clinic since 2010 they said they will look into the issue but nothing is being done and now we dont have any papers making it difficult to access our bank accounts.

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