Failing asylum system fuels xenophobia in South Africa, says Amnesty International


Amnesty International is calling on the South Africa government, in particular the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), to ensure a safe, fair and efficient asylum management process and to create a united South Africa that welcomes those in search of safety.

“The words and actions of our leaders matter. And we are further calling on them to stop promoting divisive political narratives and start uniting people around shared values that build a more inclusive society. Political and cultural leaders must be held accountable for irresponsible and divisive political narratives that fuel xenophobic violence,” said Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa.

Amnesty International South Africa embarked on research in 2018 to gather its own data on the experiences of asylum seekers attempting to exercise their rights to seek asylum and remain regularized in South Africa during the determination of their asylum applications.  Amnesty spoke to 88 people through focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews in four locations: Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Durban.

Despite its strong legal and human rights framework on refugees and asylum seekers’ rights, South Africa’s asylum management system is failing, leaving hundreds of thousands of applicants without proper documentation and exacerbating xenophobia in the country, according to a report – Living in Limbo: Rights of Asylum Seekers Denied – released by Amnesty International South Africa today.

The report found that poor decision-making, including mistakes of fact and lack of sound reasoning, has resulted in a 96% rejection rate of asylum applications and a massive backlog of appeals and reviews – around an estimated 190,000. This has kept some asylum seekers in the asylum system without a final decision of their case for as long as 19 years.

While their claim is being processed, asylum seekers are supposed to be issued with official documents saying that their application is being considered and confirming that they are officially in the system. These documents are essential for getting treatment in public hospitals, registering in schools and accessing formal employment.

However, Amnesty International found that asylum seekers were frequently not issued with the required papers. “Without formal status or proper documentation they are unable to work legally, or access healthcare and education. This can leave them destitute and vulnerable to harassment, arrest and detention.

“It’s shocking that a country such as South Africa trivialises the vulnerability of those fleeing desperate circumstances.” (Source: Amnesty International)