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SA gets tough on Zim refugees


JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s Home Affairs department’s refugee status determination officials need rigorous training to grasp what factors cause people to seek asylum in the country, a refugee rights group has said.

People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop) paralegal head Langton Miriyoga said some Home Affairs officials seemed ignorant of the “African map and politics”.

Citing a spike in “copy-and-paste” refugee status rejections for Zimbabwean asylum-seekers, Miriyoga said he wondered “if they (officials) were trained at all”.

In 2010, thousands of undocumented Zimbabwean asylum-seekers benefited from the department’s special dispensation programme when they were issued with work and study permits with a duration of between three and four years.

The programme, which was welcomed by refugee rights organisations, saw South Africa and Zimbabwe co-ordinate efforts to ensure successful documentation.

But since the closure of the project in December 2010, Zimbabwean asylum-seekers are treated on the same basis as refugees from other countries.

However, Zimbabwe remained unstable and more people were leaving the country due to the failure of the government of national unity and lack of implementation of the Global Political Agreement signed in 2008 to end hostilities between Zanu PF and the two MDC formations, said Miriyoga.

Citing possible upcoming elections there, he said people were fleeing the country due to fears of a repeat of pre-election violence.

He said the country had no measures in place to pre-empt violence in which ordinary people suffered yet 98% of the current refugee status applications for Zimbabweans were rejected on the basis that the country was peaceful.

“They (officials) lack an understanding of the context of the conflict dimensions
. . . they are misinformed about Zimbabwe,” he said.

He cited a British Supreme Court ruling on July 25 which had favoured Zimbabwean asylum-seekers there by confirming that there was evidence people in Zimbabwe were being persecuted by the effective ruling party Zanu PF for their political affiliations.
He said that it was naive to suggest that Zimbabweans had stopped fleeing into South Africa as the situation remained hostile.

Approached for comment, Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said they had documented thousands of Zimbabweans under the special dispensation programme in 2010.

He said the project was a success and Zimbabwean asylum-seekers were now being treated like asylum-seekers from other countries.

Asked about the need to further train refugee status determination officers, he said: “We are happy with the work they are doing.”

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