As the economic powerhouse of Africa, and also a country with a relatively stable political situation, South Africa represents an attractive destination for economic and political asylum seekers, not only from other countries in Africa, but from other developing nations around the world. Of course, the South African government is aware of these people arriving in the republic, and as such has a special permit category for them.
Applying for this Refugee Permit (also known as the Section 24 Permit) is done once you have arrived in South Africa. Once you have the Refugee Permit, you are under the protection of the South African government and you are allowed to remain in South Africa until it is safe to return to your country of origin.
You can apply at any of the five Refugee Reception Offices:
- Pretoria (Marabastad)
- Johannesburg (Crown Mines)
- Durban (Greyville)
- Cape Town (Nyanga)
- Port Elizabeth (North End)
When you apply at the Office, you will be fingerprinted and interviewed, and you will also have to fill in a form. This process is completely free of charge. THERE IS NO FEE FOR A REFUGEE APPLICATION. If someone asks you for money, report them to another official or to the police, or phone Home Affairs on 0800 60 11 90.
If English is not your first language, you are allowed to make use of an interpreter. You may also be accompanied by a legal representative such as an attorney/lawyer.
The form that you must complete is called the Eligibility Determination Form. It includes questions about
- Your name
- Your nationality
- Your ethnic group
- Your religion
- The number of people in your family
- Whether you have any identity or travel documents
- If you have been to South Africa before
- Education and work experience
- Whether you have done military service
- A brief statement of the reasons as to why you left your country
- A brief description of your country and place of residence
- Name of organisations/political parties that you have been a member of
When you apply at the Office, you will only be issued with the Asylum Seeker Permit (Section 22 Permit). This permit is valid for one to three months. It does NOT give you refugee status, because it is NOT a Refugee Permit. All it means is that your application for refugee status is being processed.
That is why there will then be a second interview at a later date. This second interview will determine if you are going to get refugee status or not. This second interview is known as the Status Determination hearing, and it is conducted by an official known as the Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO).
During this interview, you will need to be able to prove that your life was in danger in the country that you came from, and also that your life will be in danger if you go back there. In order to prove this, you are allowed to submit any supporting evidence, such as documents, affidavits, or even bring witnesses with you. Once again, you may be accompanied by a legal representative, but the legal representative is not allowed to participate in the interview. They may only observe the proceedings.
Once the hearing is complete, you will be given a date on which you must return to the Office to find out the result of your application.
If your application is unsuccessful, it will automatically be reviewed by the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs. If it is still rejected, you may appeal to the Refugee Appeal Board. Please note that if you are applying fraudulently, you are taking a serious risk by appealing the rejection. Also note that in the appeal process, the most important factor is your reason for leaving your country of origin, in other words, the danger that you are trying to escape. You must be able to prove the danger clearly. Other factors, such as your employment or studies in South Africa, are less important.
If your appeal fails, or if you do not appeal, you will be issued with a “must leave” letter, giving you about 30 days to leave South Africa.
However, if your application is successful, you will be issued with the Refugee Permit (Section 24 Permit). You then have official refugee status in South Africa and you can do basically anything except vote. You will be issued with a maroon (dark red) Refugee Identity Document, which you must keep on your person at all times. If you wish to travel, you must apply for a United Nations Convention Travel Document. DO NOT try to travel on your original passport as a refugee – you can get deported back to your home country like that.
We hope that this short explanation provides helpful advice for those seeking refugee status in South Africa. However, if you still require further information, do not hesitate to contact us, either on this site or on our Facebook page.