Oversight Visit Committee Reports / Visit to Cape Town Refugee Reception Centre

Home Affairs

15 October 2007
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Meeting report

HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
16 October 2007
OVERSIGHT VISIT COMMITTEE REPORTS / VISIT TO CAPE TOWN REFUGEE RECEPTION CENTRE

Chairperson: Mr H Chauke (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Committee Report of Oversight Visit to Department, 30 July-3 August 2007
Committee Report of Study Tour to Germany, 4-12 June 2006
Committee Report of Study Tour to Berlin, Germany, 20-27 June 2007
Joint Peace & Stability Cluster Committees Report of Oversight Visit to border posts, 9-13 July 2007
Joint Health & Home Affairs Committees' Report: Oversight Visit to Mbizana 17 Sept 2007
Draft minutes of 8 May 2007
Draft minutes of 15 May 2007
Draft minutes of 16 May 2007
Draft minutes of 22 May 2007
Draft minutes of 24 August 2007
[All Reports available at Committee Reports once published]

Relevant Documents:
Cape Argus news article: Refugee allegedly held in a cage 18 October 2007 (see Appendix)
Cape Times news article Is SA mistreating its refugees? 18 October 2007(see Appendix)

NOT RECORDED

SUMMARY

In a brief meeting the Chair explained the reason for the change in agenda, read a letter of apology from the

Minister of Home Affairs and noted that the proposed meeting with the Minister and the Department had

been postponed to Tuesday 23 October.

The agenda consisted of the Chair tabling ten reports and draft minutes to be considered at a later meeting,

as well as brief discussion around the Minister's apology, the opening of new border posts, and the recent

action at the Cape Town Harbour Refugee Reception Centre. The meeting was adjourned and the members

were asked to reassemble later that day, subject to the approval of Parliament, to visit the Refugee Centre.

MINUTES

The Chairperson welcomed everyone, especially the new Democratic Alliance representative Mr Mark Lowe

who was attending for the first time. Mr Chauke asked Mr Lowe to introduce himself.

Mr M Lowe (DA) formally introduced himself to the Committee and mentioned that he would be the DA

spokesperson for this Committee and had been a Member of Parliament for six years. Mr Lowe expressed

his anticipation for working with the Committee.

The Chair explained to the Committee the reason for the change of agenda. At their last meeting the

Committee had raised some issues concerning the Department and the Auditor General that they felt would

be better addressed by the Minister in a Committee meeting. Having requested the Minister's presence, the

Chair had received a letter on Friday 12 October noting that she was not able to attend this meeting due to a

prior commitment, and asking for an alternative date for the requested engagement. The Chair resolved that

Tuesday 23 October would be made available for the Minister and the Department of Home Affairs to appear before the Committee.

Ms I Mars (IFP) said that the discussion would be very important and thanked the Chair for acting on the

Committee's behalf. She agreed with the proposed date as set by the Chair. Mr K Morwamoche (ANC)

supported Ms Mars.

The Chair then moved to the amended agenda for the meeting: the adoption of outstanding minutes and

reports. It was made clear that not all committee members had received the documents and as such they

were not in a position to adopt them. The Chair decided rather to table the minutes and reports and they

would be considered formally at a later date, before the end of October. He requested that they go through

the committee papers carefully as they were important in compiling the annual report.

The Chair tabled the following list of committee papers to be considered by the members:

- Draft minutes of the Portfolio Committee meeting of 8 May 2007

- Draft minutes of the Portfolio Committee meeting of 15 May 2007

- Draft minutes of the Portfolio Committee meeting of 16 May 2007

- Draft minutes of the Portfolio Committee meeting of 22 May 2007

- Draft minutes of the Portfolio Committee meeting of 24 August 2007

- Report of the Study Tour to Germany, 4-12 June 2006

- Report of the Study Tour to Berlin, Germany, 20-27 June 2007

- Report of Joint Peace and Stability Cluster Committee's Visit to border posts, 9-13 July 2007

- Report of the Portfolio Committee's oversight of 30 July to 03 August 2007

- Report of Joint Health and Home Affairs oversight visit to Mbizana 17 Sept 2007

The Chair enquired as to the minutes of the Department of Health's investigation into the Marabastad offices. The Committee Secretary was asked to make copies available to the Members.

The Chair raised a concern about information he had received about a demonstration by refugees at the

Refugee Reception Centre at the harbour the day before. There had been planned action by the refugees

and asylum seekers that ended with the police being called in to disperse the demonstration. This incident

had to be addressed and he suggested the Committee obtain further information and meet with the regional

manager for Home Affairs in the Western Cape. He felt that a visit to the Centre needed to be arrange

urgently to observe the service that was being given. He asked for suggestions on how to deal with this

issue.

Mr Morwamoche said that it was proper for the Committee to visit the site, especially if it was close by. He

mentioned that on the public news African refugees at the Centre had complained of discrimination on the

basis of skin colour, and that this was totally against public service etiquette.

Ms F Mathibela (ANC) agreed with the Chair's suggestion of a visit to the Centre.

Ms Mars suggested the afternoon of 22 October.

The Chair noted the urgency of the matter. He proposed that, as the meeting was short, the Committee

reassemble at the Poorthuis at noon to visit the Centre. This was agreed to.

As the final point of the agenda, the Chair tabled the letter from the Minister of Home Affairs and read it to

the Committee. The letter noted that the Minster had a prior arrangement that day to attend the opening of a

new border post. She requested a later date.

Mr Morwamoche made a comment about the nature of the Minister's prior engagement. He voiced the point

that some of the issues that the Committee were grappling with concerned communication between the

Minister and her Department, and the Committee. He mentioned that years ago they had passed laws and a

budget that allowed port of entries to be manned by police. He was concerned that there were new ports

being opened without people to staff it according to the country's immigration laws.

The Chair mentioned that Mr Morwamoche had a good point. He drew the Committee's attention to page five of the report of the oversight visit in Mbizana where they had noted border posts that were still manned by police – this needed to be attended to. It was a point that was relevant and was noted for the following

week's meeting.

The Chair stated that for the 23 October meeting with the Department to be relevant, the Committee must

raise all the issues that they had previously highlighted and their recommendations. He asked the research

unit to go through previous reports and minutes (even up to five years ago) and compile a list of all the

recommendations the Committee had made to the Department.

Mr W Skhosana (ANC) referred to Mr Morwamoche's point. He asked whether it was appropriate that a

border post was opened without the Committee being informed or present. As it was the Committee that

would have to manage oversight of the border post, they should be involved. He wondered as to the actual

process taken in this regard by neighbouring countries.

The Chair said that Mr Skhosana was correct. There were a number of border posts which had been

opened, and the question of when did the Committee get involved needed to be raised the following week.

The meeting was adjourned to reconvene at noon to visit the Refugee Centre at the harbour. The ANC

members remained behind for a private meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

Appendix:
Cape Argus news article: Refugee allegedly held in a cage 18 October 2007

 

The home affairs department's refugee offices in Cape Town was a "chaotic" place where refugees were treated like animals, a parliamentary committee said.

The MPs, on an unannounced visit to the refugee offices on the Foreshore, found that officials illegally detained refugees.

Members of the home affairs portfolio committee rescued a refugee who was detained for several hours in a

cage inside a filthy toilet.

At the facility there was the most "inhumane treatment of refugees by the department's officials", the MPs said on Wednesday.

Asylum seekers' applications were strewn all over the offices. The committee also found no home affairs official attending to the scores of refugees who were in the offices.

The offices had been practically taken over by what committee chairperson Patrick Chauke described as

"syndicates", who claim to be members of some NGOs.

It was difficult to distinguish between a Home Affairs official and members of the "syndicates", as the latter had full access to applications forms, computers and other equipment in the office.

Chauke said senior officials of the department would be hauled before the committee to explain the mess at the offices.

The committee's visit was prompted by a demonstration by Zimbabwean refugees outside the offices on

Monday.

In April a report by the department found that the country's five refugee reception centres were overwhelmed

by the number of applications.

It was recommended that R42,5-million be spent to upgrade the centres to meet the basic legal obligation to

asylum seekers to South Africa.

The draft report followed a finding by a Pretoria High Court in November last year that Home Affairs' practices when dealing with refugees at the Marabastad and Rosettenville offices were unlawful.

The report found there was a backlog of between 30 000 and 48 000 applications for refugee status.

This excluded about 50 000 people who had visited the five centres that handled applications, but were

awaiting first appointments to receive the mandatory asylum seekers' (Section 22) permit to temporarily

legalise their stay in South Africa.

Pretoria High Court Judge Pierre Rabie said the country was in a crisis because of the hundreds of thousands of unemployed illegal foreigners within its borders - many of whom were asylum seekers waiting for their applications to be processed.

"I cannot imagine how these people can survive without turning to crime," he said in a judgment deemed to be

a victory for asylum seekers.

He said the price to be paid to ensure their applications were processed without delay was a drop in the ocean measured against the price the country was paying for crime.

In September Tshwane executive mayor Dr Gwen Ramokgopa approved a clean-up of the Marabastad offices after the two-week long municipal strike.

Ramokgopa spoke to several of the refugees and said that Pretoria was a city where human dignity was

respected.

 

 

Cape Times news article Is SA mistreating its refugees? 18 October 2007

by Jade Witten

Police have warned people who sleep outside the Home Affairs office for refugees on the Foreshore that they would be arrested if they defied the law.

The threat came only hours after members of parliament slammed the Department of Home Affairs for the

inhumane treatment of the refugees.

Meanwhile, parliament has immediately taken steps to improve the processing of refugees, by announcing that a new office will be opened on Monday.

Patrick Chauke, head of parliament's Home Affairs portfolio committee, led a nine-member committee

delegation on an unannounced visit to the centre on Wednesday, following reports of widespread problems, including corruption and abuse of refugees.

On Wednesday, Chauke was visibly angered when he discovered a refugee being held in a makeshift cell in

toilets on suspicion of stealing a cellphone.

The steel mesh door of the "cell" had been locked with handcuffs. The dazed man, who had been caged for

three hours, burst into tears when Chauke ordered he be freed.

Chauke was outraged by conditions at the centre and the "arrogance" of staff. He found rubbish on the floors, unattended computers and "arrogant" staff.

Braam Hanekom, spokesperson of the refugee advocacy group People Against Suffering Suppression

Oppression and Poverty (Passop), said "it was heartbreaking" to see the police action.

Hanekom said he would speak to his lawyers on Thursday to obtain an order for alternative accommodation.

"The refugees have nowhere to go. Worst-case scenario, we will load everyone on trucks and move them

somewhere," he said.

Chauke told officials at the centre that there would "definitely" be an unannounced follow-up visit in due course.

He was assured conditions would have improved by then.

Plans are to be announced on Friday to open a new office on Monday to process first-time applications in a bid to ease the pressure at the refugee centre.

Passop welcomed the pledge by the government and was "positive" about the outcome of Wednesday's surprise visit, Hanekom said.

Chauke, who was horrified by conditions at the dirty, ill-lit and "chaotic" centre on Wednesday, was shocked on being led to the toilet where he found the refugee locked up "like an animal".

"I really condemn this," Chauke said. "It's unacceptable, it's dark inside there and you can't even breathe.

People need to be treated in a more humane way," he said.

Chauke said the visit had left the delegation with an impression of "unacceptable circumstances".

"There is no order here. The first responsibility is to manage the queueing outside. That's where it all starts," he said.

In an hour-long meeting with the portfolio committee delegation, Yolisa Mzamane, assistant director at the

offices, admitted the environment in which officials worked was not conducive to service delivery.

Late on Wednesday, Martha Mgxashe, provincial manager of Home Affairs, was called to a meeting to discuss conditions at the refugee centre.

Chauke said he was "quite satisfied" after their discussion.

He said the department had made a plan to attend to first-time applicants at a separate venue - to be

announced tomorrow - and which would begin operating on Monday.

 

 

 

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