Department of Home Affairs in breach of Supreme Court of Appeal order – again

In July 2012, the Department of Home Affairs closed the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (CTRRO) for new asylum applications. The closure meant the CTRRO was no longer fully-functional and would operate only for those asylum-seekers who had lodged claims prior to the closure.

Asylum-seekers who arrived after the closure had to apply at the remaining RROs – Durban, Musina and Pretoria – and then return to the RRO of application for any further administration of their claims, including permit renewals. The practical reality thereof is that many have to travel very far distances (up to 2,000km) every 1-6 months to renew their permits, which is costly – both financially and emotionally – places heavy burdens on families, and makes asylum-seekers vulnerable to abuse, sexual violence and extortion.

In September 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ordered the Department of Home Affairs to open a fully-functioning CTRRO for new asylum applications, citing the Department’s decision to close the second busiest Refugee Reception Office in South Africa as “irrational and unlawful”. The action was brought by Scalabrini, the Somali Association of South Africa and others and were represented by the Legal Resources Centre. The Court gave the Department until 31 March 2018 to re-open the CTRRO. It also instructed the Department to provide regular progress reports on how its preparations towards re-opening were advancing.

The Department has failed to provide any progress updates.

Throughout this period, various civil society organizations tried to engage the Department of Home Affairs to seek information and updates, but received none. On 27 March, representatives from human rights and migrant organizations staged a silent protest at the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs in Parliament to urge the Department to comply with the court order, while also embarking on a Count Down campaign to raise awareness of the number of days left before the SCA deadline.

Representatives from the Department eventually met with 11 civil society organisations on 28 March. This meeting arose out of an initial visit to the RRO in which we attempted to ascertain the readiness status of the RRO and was not part of the court process, nor the official progress report as ordered by the SCA. We were informed that the RRO would not be fully operational by 31 March, as it was now up to the Department of Public Works to secure premises, and that further questions pertaining to the re-opening should be referred to their Legal Services.

We reject the Department of Home Affairs’ reasoning for this delay, and their complete lack of accountability.

The Department is currently, and remains, in breach of the SCA order and is actively defying the rule of law.

As civil society organizations, we demand:

  1. that the Department of Home Affairs immediately opens fully-functional Refugee Reception Offices in Port Elizabeth and in Cape Town, following the court orders issued by the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2015 and 2017 respectively;
  2. for contempt of court proceedings to be urgently instituted against the Department, that the Department is appropriately fined, and that the Department of Home Affairs officials responsible for the contempt of court actions be cited in their personal capacities too, and to be held personally liable as per section 165(5) of the Constitution; and
  3. that the South African Human Rights Commission rigorously monitors and ensures that the CTRRO extends all available service as per the Refugees Act to new-comers, to asylum-seekers who applied at other RROs, and to asylum-seekers who wish to join their families in Cape Town, and that migrant rights are fully respected.

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For Comment

Marike Keller
021 423 7088
083 2596573

Karen Robertson
021 423 7088
076 944 9873

Signed by


  • Adonis Musati Project
  • United Family
  • ALPS Resilience
  • Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Southern African Litigation Centre
  • Refugee Rights Unit, University of Cape Town
  • African Coalition for Refugees
  • African Diaspora Forum
  • Black Sash
  • Cape Jewish Board of Deputies
  • People’s Health Movement South Africa
  • Sophiatown Counselling
  • Mamelani Projects
  • Treatment Action Campaign
  • Public Health Association of South Africa
  • South African Unemployed Youth Forum
  • Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance
  • Three2Six Refugee Children’s Education Project


  • Katie Huston
  • Kirsten Bobrow
  • Sally Guttmacher
  • Henk Smith
  • Marion Heap
  • Bianca Sossen
  • Diane Sandler
  • Joel Quirk
  • Lori Lake
  • Chris Scott
  • Carla Lever