The large number of people applying for asylum permits at the under-resourced Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office means many are being turned away without getting the permits.
The office was reopened to new asylum seekers in October 2018. It followed years of legal action, public outcry and civil society activism after the office was closed in 2011. Home Affairs was ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2015 to reopen the facility.
The new premises are in Sydenham. Most of the people who apply for permits come from out of Port Elizabeth, and have to spend considerable money on transport.
When GroundUp visited the centre on Wednesday, hundreds of asylum seekers from Ethiopia and Burundi were jostling in long queues, hoping to be either served or be allocated appointment times. Others were wandering about aimlessly after giving up hope of being served. The backlog for appointments is currently March 2019.
Chris Mapingure of the Zimbabwe Migrants Support Network said that hundreds of applicants visited the office every day hoping to get asylum permits. Most of them were turned away, he said, and only a fraction were processed.
“We are appealing to the department of home affairs to increase the number of people they assist daily. Many people are coming from faraway places,” Mapingure said.
A 26-year-old man from Burundi who works in Cape Town as a gardener said Wednesday was his second trip to Port Elizabeth in two weeks. He failed on both occasions to get even an appointment date. He said he