Thursday, July 23, 2015

Money for safety

South Africa is a major destination for migrants and asylum seekers from all over the continent. In 2014, it received over 86,000 asylum applications, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, more than twice the number received in the UK. But just under one in 10 of those applications were approved – one of the lowest approval rates in the world.

In South Africa, asylum seekers and refugees in need of documentation often have no choice but to pay for it. So says a new report exposing how corruption and bribery have permeated nearly every level of the country’s asylum system: from border crossings, to queues outside refugee reception offices, to what takes place inside those offices.

The report, carried out by the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, together with Lawyers for Human Rights, surveyed more than 900 respondents, the majority of them asylum seekers, and found that nearly a third had experienced corruption at some stage in the process. “It is corruption everywhere,” said one respondent interviewed outside Marabastad Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in Pretoria, which according to the report is the most corrupt of the country’s five RROs. “They ask for money. You pay, but they don’t help you. If you can give R2,000 to R5,000 (US$162 to $404) you can get refugee status.”

An interpreter employed by the Department of Home Affairs at Marabastad said that asylum seekers were routinely asked for money in exchange for a positive outcome on their applications.

13 percent of respondents said that border officials asked them for money. 22 percent of respondents said they were asked for money while queuing outside an RRO, usually by security guards or brokers claiming to have connections with staff inside. At Marabastad, more than half of the respondents experienced corruption in the queue. 31 percent reported being asked for money in exchange for being assisted once inside the office.

Asylum seekers unable to renew their permits before they expire are liable for fines, a system that opens up another opportunity for corruption, with fines often being paid directly to RRO staff, according to the report. 

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