NEWS

Revamped Refugee Centre Brings Hopes Of Better Service

"By the time you leave here, most of the time, you won't be having all of your stuff you came with."

18/02/2017 08:15 SAST | Updated 18/02/2017 09:11 SAST
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There were allegations of corruption, long queues, overcrowding, and criminal syndicates.

Every day scores of asylum seekers camp at the doorsteps of the Marabastad refugee reception centre in Pretoria, in pursuit of bona fide documentation to remain in the country.

These foreigners throng the entrance clutching paperwork that includes identification documents from their country of origin, travel documents, non-renewable asylum transit permits (for those applying for the first time, also called section 23 permit), or section 22 permit for those who are renewing their existing documentation.

Clarah Rwenhamo, an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, says officials put boxes near the fence for them to place their applications inside. The boxes get taken inside.

"When they come back, they come with papers with our names on them and we'd all go to the boxes in big numbers, everyone looking for their documents all mixed up in one place."

What follows is a scrum, with shoving, bumping and smashing, to get to their papers.

Lynnette Kamudyariwa, also from Zimbabwe, says thieves take advantage of the chaos to steal cellphones, money, and documents.

"By the time you leave here, most of the time, you won't be having all of your stuff you came with."

On two occasions Rwenhamo was unable to get into the centre.

"We were made to stay outside, and we were told if you force your way in, you'd be caught and deported back to your country. It was very hard. There were too many tsotsis (thieves) and just people in general."

Some foreigners never get their asylum documents because they disappear somewhere inside the building. The bureaucratic nightmare of trying to get documents forces people to put their lives on hold.

"Sometimes you spend the whole day here without food and at the end they tell you that the system is down, so you have to come back some other day," says Kamudyariwa.

"You come back tomorrow. It's the same thing. Then you have to come back the following week because they work only Monday and Tuesday," she says.

High influx

She had to abandon her daily commitments because her livelihood depended on her asylum documentation.

Last year, President Jacob Zuma visited the centre and heard complaints from refugees. Problems included lack of staff, slow information technology, inadequate filling systems, and poor management, he said at the launch of a revamped centre on Friday afternoon.

There were allegations of corruption, long queues, overcrowding, and criminal syndicates.

Now public areas have been refurbished, there's electric fencing, and an automated booking system.

"What I really want them to change is the service that we are getting here and our asylum papers as well, so we can be able to open bank accounts," says Kamudyariwa.

South Africa is one of the top 10 countries in the world receiving asylum seekers. They are mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ghana.

In 2008, the country received over 150 000 applications, a number that has now decreased to 60 000.

"This influx is still high and remains a challenge even to economic realities that South Africa faces as a developing country," Zuma said on Friday. -- News24

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