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South Africa: COVID-19 - Bank Accused of Freezing Asylum Seekers` Accounts During Lockdown

Source: , 03/06/2020

The Department of Home Affairs issued a statement on 14 April
saying: `Any asylum seeker whose visa expired from 16 March 2020
to the end of the lockdown period will not be penalised or
arrested provided that they legalise their visa within 30 calendar
days of the lockdown being lifted`.
As the country entered lockdown level three, the Department issued
another statement on Monday, saying that refugee reception offices
would remain closed but permits which expired `would be deemed to
be valid until 31 July 2020`.
But Martin* says when he went to the ATM to draw money on 18 March
he found that his FNB account, which he had opened in 2018, had
been frozen. When he visited his FNB branch in Cape Town, he says,
`They can`t help me because my asylum document has expired.`
Martin, who is gay, ran away from persecution in Zimbabwe and has
been living in Cape Town for six years. He applied for his asylum
in Port Elizabeth in 2018 and has been going to renew every three
to six months. Since the closure of the Cape Town Refugee
Reception offices in 2012, refugees must travel to Pretoria,
Durban and Port Elizabeth, and can only renew their permits at the
offices which issued them.
Now Martin has been threatened with eviction by his landlord
because he cannot pay his rent. `Friends helped me out with money
for food and rent. It`s frustrating to experience money problems
when I know I have money locked in my account.`
Victor Chikalogwe of People Against Suffering and Oppression
(PASSOP) last week said the organisation had received about ten
complaints about accounts frozen by FNB. He said he had visited
FNB in March and been told the accounts had been frozen for
`authenticity verification` with Home Affairs. The bank had
promised to open the accounts within a month but had not done so,
he said.
`The worst part is they just freeze accounts without informing
people. If they did that people would have taken out the little
they have,` he said.
In an email to GroundUp on 20 May, FNB spokesperson Yashen Singh
said, `FNB can confirm that its foreign national customers` bank
accounts are managed in accordance with the relevant laws,
including the temporary concession issued by the Department of
Home Affairs.`
`As an essential service, FNB continues to assist customers based
on the individual merits of each case. We welcome an opportunity
to assist our customer once we are provided with the requested
details.`
Asked why the bank is freezing asylum seekers` accounts in spite
of the Home Affairs announcement, another spokesperson, Tsietsi
Mahlasela told GroundUp on the phone on 20 May that she could not
comment without the personal information of each complainant.
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