The closure of urban RROs undermines the entire refugee protection framework established by the Refugees Act and the closures have been challenged in the courts. After the Cape Town RRO was closed in 2012, the closure was challenged by the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and affected asylum seekers, represented by the Legal Resources Centre. The case progressed to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) which found the closure unlawful due to the Department’s failure to consult with the public in an open and frank manner. The court found the Department’s consultations over the future of the Cape Town RRO ‘misleading’ and was ‘inconsistent with the responsiveness, participation and transparency that must govern public administration.’ The SCA ordered the Department to consult with stakeholders and to subsequently make a fresh decision about the status of the Cape Town RRO.
In late 2013, the Department held a consultation meeting regarding the status of the Cape Town RRO; input from the public at this meeting described the practical effects of the closure on the refugee community and unanimously pushed for the Cape Town RRO to remain open. The Department made a new decision in 2014 to again close the Cape Town RRO.
This decision was again challenged in the courts by the Somali Association of South Africa and the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, again represented by the Legal Resources Centre. In 2017 the SCA found the Department’s decision to close the Cape Town RRO ‘substantively irrational and unlawful’ as the Department had ignored relevant facts, had failed to consider alternative premises, and made the decision to close for ulterior purposes. The Department sought leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court but the Constitutional Court declined to hear the appeal as they were no prospects for success.
As a part of its judgment, the SCA also ordered the Department to provide progress reports regarding the re-opening each month on ‘what steps have been taken and what progress has been made to ensure compliance’. To date, the Department has failed to provide any such reports.
The courts have found the other RRO closures in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth unlawful on similar grounds; the SCA found the closure of the Port Elizabeth RRO unlawful in 2015 and ordered the Department to re-open the RRO. Today, this office too remains closed despite the ruling of the court.