Wits secures visa travel victory for refugees

The Wits Law Clinic achieved a milestone victory after the court ruled that home affairs should issue SA documents to refugees.

Ina Skosana - The New Age

The Wits Law Clinic has achieved a milestone victory for refugees in South Africa in a case against the Department of Home Affairs, it emerged on Monday.

Wits principal lawyer Daven Dass on Monday said the victory was secured after the law clinic launched an urgent matter before Judge Mogkabi two weeks ago.

As a result, the Department of Home Affairs was compelled to issue the first two South African documents for travel purposes to recognised refugees.

Two separate recognised refugees approached the Wits Law Clinic after numerous failed attempts to acquire travel documents to travel outside SA.

As recognised refugees, the complainants, Ibrahim Abdullahi Anshur and Abdurahiman Umar, have the right to be issued with a UN Convention Travel Document (UNCTD) in terms of the Refugees Act.

Sub-regulation 15(1) (e) of the Regulations to the Refugees Act provides that a refugee is "entitled to apply for and receive a UNCTD issued by the government of South Africa".

In addition, recognised refugees are entitled to a South African travel document under the South African Passports and Travel Documents Act 4 of 1994.

However, the Department of Home Affairs had abruptly terminated the granting of the UNCTD in 2009. This effectively denied freedom of movement to recognised refugees across South Africa, said Dass.

In May, two urgent applications were launched by the Wits Law Clinic against the Minister of Home Affairs and the director-general of Home Affairs (the respondents).

These applications were brought on behalf of the two refugees who had been granted refugee status in terms of section 24(3) (a) of the Refugee Act 130 of 1998.

An order was granted by the North Gauteng High Court on June 21 ordering the respondents to provide the two refugees with travel documents.

Receiving no response to the court order and in light of the prejudice to the two refugees, the clinic decided to launch urgent contempt proceedings against Home Affairs.

The respondents opposed the contempt application, subsequently appointing senior counsel to represent them before Judge Tuchten.

The crux of the respondents' case was that a new process was being implemented and that they needed time to produce the documents. On this basis, the matter was postponed twice at the request of the respondents.

During one of the postponements, the applicants were directed to make an application for this new document.

On October 14, as Judge Mogkabi was about to grant an order for the contempt against the respondents, a representative of the Department of Home Affairs brought two South African documents for travel purposes to court and presented them to the applicants.

The respondents were also ordered to pay the legal costs of the applicants.

Dass said the case has expedited the implementation of the new system by the Department of Home Affairs.

"The Wits Law Clinic is now liaising with the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa and has subsequently forwarded correspondence to the Department of Home Affairs to make these travel documents available to refugees across the country, he said."

IMCOSA - Immigration Consultants South Africa - Visa Services, Immigration Agents