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Bill opens asylum seekers` hearings to public

Source: Business Day, 11/08/2015

THE media and the public will now be allowed to attend asylum seekers`
appeals when conducted following the adoption of the Refugee Amendment
Bill.

Parliament`s portfolio committee on home affairs adopted the bill last
week.

The bill would ease asylum seekers` appeals and refugees` applications
to maintain their status in the country as it would fast-track both
processes, the Department of Home Affairs said.

In 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled that section 21 of the Refugee
Act was unconstitutional because it restricted the media and the
public`s access to refugee appeal hearings.

In terms of the original act, asylum seekers` confidentiality and
their information "must be ensured at all times", unless a refugee
appeals authority may, on application, allow any person or the media
to attend.

Department of Home Affairs spokesman and deputy director-general
Mayihlome Tshwete said the transparency introduced in the amendment
bill protected the interests of genuine asylum seekers while filtering
out those who did not have legitimate grounds to seek refugee status.

"The amendments are meant to serve refugees and asylum seekers
better," he said.

"The system is currently being used as a loophole to enter the
country. Genuine (applicants) ... suffer because they (are) viewed in
the same way as those who are not genuine asylum seekers," Mr Tshwete
said.

But David Cote from Lawyers for Human Rights said that the
organisation was concerned about the amendments to the Refugees Act,
which proposed limitations to accessing the refugee system and
restricting a prospective applicant`s right to work.
"These limitations appear to be in direct contravention of SA`s
international obligations in terms of the United Nations convention
relating to refugees.

"It (the bill) further introduces polygraph testing for (home affairs)
officials, a wholly inadequate measure to prevent the widespread
corruption within the refugee system," Mr Cote said.
The amendments would have to be overhauled to ensure compliance with
existing laws and obligations, he said.

But Inkatha Freedom Party MP Sibongile Nkomo, who is on the committee,
said: "It is important to do an assessment of who is here (in SA). If
not, there will be unsavoury openings (in the country)."
The amendments must now be deliberated in the National Assembly, after
which they will come into effect by the end of next month.


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