Home Affairs misses ConCourt deadline for re-opening PE refugee office

FEBRUARY 10, 2016

The Department of Home Affairs on Tuesday missed a deadline set by the Constitutional Court that it re-opens the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office, which was closed in 2011.

"We note our disappointment that the Department of Home Affairs has disregarded the court order that compels them to re-open by February 9. We have not seen any progress towards reopening the Port Elizabeth centre,” said Patricia Erasmus, head of the refugees and migrants program at Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), told the Daily Maverick.

Lawyers for Human Rights has been challenging the closure of the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office since the fight began in the Eastern Cape High Court in 2013.

However, Home Affairs spokesperson, Mayihlome Tshwete, confirmed that the department had missed the deadline because of significant logistical barriers.

“There are a number of logistical matters we are trying to sort out. We are in communication with concerned parties trying to explain those logistical issues, but it’s on the way,” said Tshwete.

According to the Daily Maverick, a copy of the department’s most recent progress report on the subject, delivered to stakeholders, shows a funding shortage, a personnel shortage, technical challenges and the difficulty in finding suitable premises as reasons why it would not be able to re-open the office on time.

In November last year, the Constitutional Court dismissed an appeal by the Department of Home Affairs giving it three months to re-open the centre from the date of they recievde the order.

In October, the Department of Home Affairs said abuse of its services was part of the reasons why it decided to close the refugee reception centre. This was revealed by Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Fatima Chohan, during the Home Affairs briefing in Parliament.

Chohan said that her department had uncovered a syndicate that flew in non-South Africans into Port Elizabeth.

"It was like a tourist bus. They were literally getting off the plane, throwing their passports away and going to the refugee reception centre [in Port Elizabeth]," she said.

Many of these refugees came from southeast Asian countries.

Three months prior, in August, the Constitutional Court had refused to hear the appeal by the Department of Home Affairs regarding the closure of the refugee reception office after it was lodged after deadline. 

Home Affairs wanted to appeal against a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) decision that it re-opens the office.

In 2014, a SCA judgment found that the closure of the office had been unlawful. Read more HERE.

In March 2015, the SCA ordered that the centre be re-opened.

Related: 

ABUSE OF SERVICES AMONG REASONS FOR HOME AFFAIRS' CLOSURE OF PE REFUGEE CENTRE