South Africa and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched a project on Monday to clear a backlog in the country’s asylum system by 2024.
The historic agreement had been under deliberation for years.
The initiative will see more than 153,000 asylum applications, which have been stuck in the system for years, finally heard and decided.
South Africa and the UN Refugee Agency set aside 2.6 million dollars and 7 million dollars, respectively, for the project.
Both sides agreed that potential refugees will benefit the country’s economy and social fabric.
South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the partnership would provide guaranteed international protection to refugees who had to flee their home countries.
“I’m happy that UNHCR is partnering with South Africa.
“The start of this initiative coincides with the year 2008, when we experienced a global financial recession, up until then it was from 1998, when the refugee act of South Africa was enacted, in the same year home affairs received the lowest number (of applications) — 11,135 — and that number steadily grew and reached 53,361 in 2006.
“At the time our system was able to handle such numbers, there were no problems. But as time went on numbers increased and overwhelmed the system the department was used to,” the minister explained.
Apart from financial assistance, the UN agency will help employ and train 36 staffers over the next couple of months as well as provide IT tools to “monitor progress against monthly targets,” Motsoaledi added.
According to the minister, the increase in staff members at the Refugee Appeals Authority will enhance its capacity, while new technologies will help manage applications more effectively.
Five refugee centres in the country will hear the cases and boost outreach to help applicants with education.
“Some applicants come into the country and get an asylum seeker application as a work or study permit instead of applying according to the criteria of International protection.
“Refugees will be considered on the grounds of war in their home countries, those persecuted on political, religious, and sexual orientation grounds, or if they are dependent on someone based on what I have stated.
“A committee will be established to deal with issues of bribery,” the minister continued.
He noted that the most represented nationalities among asylum seekers in South Africa are people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh.
Leonard Zulu, the UNHCR’s Representative in South Africa, praised the government for its continued support for asylum seekers.
He also commended the country for including refugees in the health system during the pandemic. (Sputnik/NAN)