Refugees and asylum seekers say that the Home Affairs offices on the Foreshore in Cape Town are more chaotic than ever since security vanished from the facility.
It is not unusual for refugees to experience poor service and mistreatment and to queue from 5am‚ but in the past week, they say things have become even worse.
Asylum seekers come to renew their papers; refugees arrive to collect IDs‚ apply for passports and register children and relatives. But in the absence of security to show people which queue to join‚ people are left confused. There is also no one to maintain order in the queues or to prioritise mothers with babies and small children.
On Wednesday‚ GroundUp found no security at the main entrance. Usually, security guards screen people on arrival. Inside the gate‚ there were two officials collecting documents. Outside the offices, ‚ officials would appear from time to time and collect documents handed to them over the perimeter fence or call out the names of people whose files they had. Some people said they did not know what queue they were standing in.
An Ethiopian man‚ who preferred not to be named‚ had flown from Johannesburg on Tuesday night and queued on Wednesday to extend his refugee status. He was told at 10 am to return on Thursday.
But Home Affairs told GroundUp: “The status renewal schedule is aligned to the schedule for available interpreters (Ethiopians are on Wednesday). However‚ if there is proof of travelling the applicants are prioritised.”
“The problem with this place is that no one listens … No one cares or gives a damn‚” said the man. “You are not given a chance to raise your issues or explain your circumstances. Besides losing my seat [for the return flight] today‚ I have to pay for accommodation and it’s not guaranteed that if I come again tomorrow I will be served.”
He also said he was missing work and would not be paid.
A number of parents told GroundUp their children were missing school.
“My two children‚ who are doing grade four and eight‚ have missed three days of school‚,” a mother said. “It is crucial that they be in school because they are doing revision in preparation for mid-year examinations. These people just don’t care. When I showed him [the official] my paper‚ he just pushed it back without even looking at it.
“For three days I didn’t work. Next week its month end. I need to pay school fees and rent. I hope today they will help me. I do have a refugee status that I renew every four years‚” she said.
Pastor Belesi from the Democratic Republic of Congo said he had applied for his ID last year in December and was told he should follow up after three months. He said last week he forced himself inside the building. He was told the official who deals with IDs was away for the whole week and he should return next week.
“So today I am here since 6am‚ but I do not see myself getting any service‚” said Belesi. “I am just waiting. Nobody is telling me anything. I don’t know what to do; should I stay‚ go or wait? I missed the 10 am church meeting and the congregation is still waiting for me.”
Home Affairs spokesperson Thabo Mokgola responded to a number of queries but ignored GroundUp’s question about the security guard situation.