People queuing at the Desmond Tutu Refugee Centre in Pretoria to renew their asylum-seeking papers.
PHOTO: Kimberly Mutandiro, GroundUp
- A report by Lawyers for Human Rights states that
corruption is present at every stage of the asylum process in South Africa.
- Respondents reported being asked for money by an
official to cross the border.
- Once in South Africa, respondents also reported
facing challenges of corruption to access services at refugee centres.
From crossing the border to applying for refugee
status in South Africa, foreign nationals seeking asylum are often met with
corruption at every point of the process.
This is according to a Lawyers for Human Rights
(LHR) report titled Costly Protection: Corruption in South Africa’s Asylum
The report, which entailed interviews with 263
asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants between August and December 2019,
contained a finding that corruption started at the border.
While a person entering South Africa through an
official port of entry with the intention to seek asylum should be given a
five-day asylum transit permit, 10% of the respondents reported that they were
asked for money by an official to cross the border.
A further 11% reported that they were arrested
before they made it to a refugee reception office (RRO).
Upon entering the country and making it to an RRO,
32% of the respondents reported having to pay to gain access to the office,
while a further 34% were denied access to the office, according to the report.
“Individuals must often make multiple visits
to the office to address a single issue,” the report noted.
“These inefficiencies increase both the
opportunities for and susceptibility to corruption as asylum seekers grow more
“Half of all 2019 survey respondents reported
that it was not the first time they had come to the RRO to address the issue
they were there for on the day of the interview (for asylum).”
The report further stated that:
Overall, respondents experienced corruption on an average of one to two occasions.
The report stated that gaining entry into the RRO
was found to be a major locus of exploitation and that the struggle to obtain
access led to a series of further pressures for those seeking assistance,
thereby incentivising them to pay for access and assistance.
According to the respondents, they were asked to pay for the following services:
- 6% were
asked to pay to make an application for asylum
- 11% were
asked to pay for the assistance of an interpreter
- 26% were
asked to pay for a lost or expired permit
- 16% were
asked to pay for the issuance of refugee documents
- 12% were
asked to pay for the renewal of refugee documents
These services are free to access, according to the
A further 26% of the respondents were also
allegedly extorted to avoid arrest, while 4% were asked to pay to be released
The report noted that the Department of Home
Affairs (DHA) had done work to fight the corruption, but that the corruption
within the DHA was in the attitudes towards migrants.
“DHA has adopted a reactive response to the
pileup of applications, long lines, and closed offices – all of which breed
grounds for fraudulent behaviour by officials and an atmosphere of misconduct
found within multiple RROs.
“Likewise, the surveys indicate that
corruption is largely a structural issue than a few cases reported by individuals.
“DHA has perpetuated corrupt practices, not
only by failing to create sustainable change internally and externally, but
also by placing the burden of pursuing allegations of corruption onto asylum
seekers themselves. As a result, the asylum system has largely been led by
corrupt, financially driven incentives as opposed to ameliorating barriers for
individuals in hope of a better quality of life.”
Limitations and methodology
The report stated that limitations to the survey
methodology included language barriers, willingness to participate and the
sensitivity of the subject matter.
These limitations may have had an impact on the
degree of representativity of the sample.
“A further limitation is that although
participation in the survey was extensive, results also suggest that certain
nationalities may be under-represented in the data.
“Anecdotal evidence indicates that individuals
from certain nationality groups may be more likely to be victimised by corrupt
systems and officials. Moreover, logistical challenges, such as asylum seekers’
access to transportation and the survey venues, may have impacted the survey
Of the 263 respondents interviewed, 51% were from
the Democratic Republic of Congo, 14% from Ethiopia, 9% from Burundi and 9%
The age of respondents ranged between 18 and 67,
with an average age of 31.
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