The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will give South Africa R147 million over the next four years to help eliminate the backlog at the Refugee Appeals Authority. The backlog currently stands at more than 153 000 appeals.

In 2020, the Auditor General estimated it will take 68 years to work through the backlog if they continued to work in the same way.

The Refugee Appeal Authority is an independent body that adjudicates appeals by refugees who have been denied asylum by the Home Affairs Department.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and the head of the UNHCR for Southern Africa, Leonard Zulu, launched the Asylum Backlog Project in Pretoria on Monday.

Motsoaledi says the Refugee Appeals Authority only has three members that must hear all the appeals in the country. They also must decide on appeals together.

Only one official can now decide on an appeal and difficult cases need to be adjudicated by three members.

Motsoaledi says the project provides for more officials to be appointed. “Currently, the Refugee Appeals Authority has a chairperson and two members, with a support staff consisting of 11 officials nationally who are in administrative role. Now ladies and gentlemen, I want you to imagine from increasing the staff from three, increasing them by 36, what it will do to the process.”

UNHCR calls on the world to do more for refugees:

Administrative support

The Department of Home Affairs will provide administrative support to the Refugee Appeals Authority to make sure cases are researched properly before they are heard. Some of the money will be spent on IT support.

“Technology is going to be increasingly used in managing files of applicants. This move will make it easier to communicate with applicants via means other than physical meetings. This will certainly increase the efficiency of the Refugees Appeals Authority,” says Motsoaledi.

Since 1998, when 11 135 people applied for asylum in South Africa, the numbers have increased steadily each year. In 2009, 223 000 people applied for asylum.

Motsoaledi says the system was developed to deal with a maximum of 53 000 applications a year. The latest figures show that in 2019, 25 000 people applied for asylum, and most of them were from African countries.

“According to the information at our disposal, number one on the list are people from the DRC, then from Somalia, then from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh,” he says.

UNHCR says SA has been a generous host to refugees and asylum seekers for many decades:

Strengthening SA’s Asylum System

Head of the UNHCR for Southern Africa, Leonard Zulu, says this project will strengthen South Africa’s Asylum System to ensure asylum seekers are not exploited.

“If you stay for more than five years without your status being recognised, you are exposed to exploitation and abuse because you do not have a durable legal status. So, this will be the immediate benefit of refugees who have come to South Africa to seek international protection and have found sanctuary in host communities.”