UNHCR pledges to help South Africa streamline asylum system

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 17: Immigrants queue at a government refugee center June 17, 2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Officials were overwhelmed by the crowd of thousands that appeared Tuesday morning, after a three day weekend in South Africa. The wave of immigrants crossing illegally from Zimbabwe continues, despite the xenophobic violence against immigrants last month. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
FILE : Immigrants queue at a government refugee center in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Wednesday pledged to help South Africa streamline its asylum system and improve access to documentation for refugees and asylum-seekers.

The UNHCR recognizes that, like many other countries, South Africa is confronted with the challenge of addressing increasingly complex population flows, the agency said.

Asylum systems have come under immense strain as conflict and persecution drive more refugees across borders, while migrants resort to asylum channels in the absence of other safe and regular migration options, said Hélène Caux, UNHCR Senior Communications Officer in South Africa.

He was speaking after UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, concluded a two-day visit to South Africa, during which Grandi met with President Cyril Ramaphosa, Home Affairs Minister Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi and other senior government representatives to discuss the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.

During his visit, the High Commissioner held a range of discussions with refugees and asylum seekers in Johannesburg and Pretoria, and had a video conference with some in Cape Town, Caux said.

They shared fears relating to personal security, and concerns regarding the length of the asylum process, and growing problems in accessing and renewing documentation, which in turn impact their access to health services, education and jobs, said Caux.

The UN refugee chief also met with civil society organizations and business leaders to explore how they can help support the vulnerable, and create opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers in the country and across the region, as well as for the local communities hosting them, Caux said.

Grandi conveyed the UNHCR’s commitment to working with the authorities to help address these concerns and find suitable solutions, said Caux.

Grandi also conveyed the message that resettlement to third countries is a very limited option for refugees worldwide, as the number of resettlement places available globally is unfortunately dropping, according to Caux.

For most refugees here in South Africa, resettlement is not an option, but for refugees opting for voluntary repatriation, they should be helped to return to their countries of origin, Caux quoted Grandi as saying.

Grandi’s visit came after a new spate of xenophobic violence gripped parts of the country last month, claiming the lives of at least 12 people.

Refugees and asylum seekers have staged sit-ins at UNHCR offices in Cape Town and Pretoria in recent days, in protest against the South African government’s inability to protect their rights.

South Africa is hosting more than 268,000 refugees and asylum seekers according to government statistics, mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to the latest official figures.

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