Chris Watters
South Africa is a signatory to both the UN and OAU refugee conventions obliging it to offer refugee status and protection to persons fleeing convention-based persecution.

Persons planning to apply for recognition as refugees can disclose that fact on arrival at a port of entry and will then be issued with an asylum seeker’s transit permit in terms of the Immigration Act, which allows the asylum seeker 14 days to report in person to one of the Refugee Reception Offices inside the country. This period will be reduced to five days in terms of a pending amendment to the Refugees Act which is not yet in operation.

The Reception offices are currently located in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.

Once the asylum seeker reports to one of these offices, the courts have directed that he or she is to be issued with an asylum seeker permit in terms of the Refugees Act – as will his or her accompanying dependants.

South Africa is also signatory to the Convention against Torture (CAT). However it remains unclear whether a person qualifies as a refugee if he or she has a CAT-based claim to protection.

Unfortunately, aspiring refugees should be aware that it must be said that currently the perception exists that South Africa’s patience towards refugees is wearing thin. The government appears to consider that it has been tested by huge numbers of ill-deserving applicants. At the same time, there is considerable evidence of ill-disguised xenophobia both amongst government officials and the general public.