Hopes for an urgent interdict against the Department of Home Affairs’ issuing of fines to refugees and asylum seekers for the late renewal of their permits, and the confiscation thereof, were dashed in the Cape High Court last Wednesday.The application for an urgent interdict was filed by the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) Refugee Rights Project, which is representing eight applicants on behalf of a further 59, on December 6 last year in a bid to force Home Affairs to re-document affected refugees and asylum seekers.
The hearing was set to occur on January 26.
But according to Refugee Rights Project attorney James Chapman, Acting High Court Judge Stephen Koen called him and the state’s legal team into his chambers to announce that the matter was being referred to Cape High Court Judge President John Hlope, who would set a new date for the hearing.
Respondents in the matter include Home Affairs Minister, the department’s Director-General, Director of the Maitland Refugee Centre office and the Western Cape Minister of Police.
Last week Home Affairs spokesperson Ricky Naidoo said the department intended to oppose the Refugee Rights Project’s application.
Meanwhile, scores of asylum seekers whose documents have been confiscated and are unable to pay the fines of R2 500 levied against them, remain vulnerable to arrest and deportation, and were unable to access bank accounts or conduct any official transactions.
Chapman said the 67 refugees and asylum seekers on whose behalf the project was acting, represented a “fraction” of those who were not able to seek help from the Law Clinic.
And part of the reason for many people being unable to renew their permits in time was because it took days, sometimes weeks, to get to the front of the queue at the Maitland Refugee Centre office, a situation that was exacerbated by the public servants’ strike in September last year.
In his affidavit submitted to court, Burundian Agricole Bigirimana said he received his asylum seeker documentation in February 2008, which had to be renewed every three months.
He said he had successfully renewed it until he got stuck in queues for days last year.
His old permit was confiscated, leaving him with no documentation, and he was told to pay a fine of R2 500, with his new permits only being issued once the fine was paid.
With four children below the age of 12 and a wife to support, he said he depended on the renewal of his permit in order to work.
Bigirimana said his children were also experiencing difficulties at school due to Home Affairs’ refusal to renew his permit until he had paid the fine.
Chapman said he was expecting the hearings to now be set for March. — Peter Luhanga, West Cape News