Barriers to Asylum Seekers Claiming Their Rights in South Africa’s Asylum Management System

As part of the Lunchtime Seminar Series, the African Centre for Migration & Society invites you to a seminar titled Barriers to asylum seekers claiming their rights in South Africa’s asylum management system by Susan Tolmay (Amnesty International South Africa).

South Africa’s failed asylum management process has been well documented over the years. While a strong legal and human rights framework exists, the implementation of existing laws and policies, and even court orders is starkly lacking.  Amnesty International South Africa (AISA) embarked on research to gather its own data on the experiences of asylum seekers attempting to exercise their rights to get and remain documented in South Africa. The research set out to examine the status of Refugee Reception Offices (RROs) in South Africa, but inability to gain access to the three open RROs meant we shifted the focus to the effects of the closures of three of the urban RROs (Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Crown Mines) on the lives of asylum seekers.  Aside from being in contempt of court orders, for years, to reopen the Cape Town and Port Elizabeth RROs (recently reopened), a range of factors make it extremely difficult for asylum seekers to claim and receive refugee status. Major issues include a lack of understanding or explanation of the asylum management system; lack of or poor-quality interpretation; lack of legal representation and poor decision-making including mistakes of fact, lack of sound reasoning, misapplication of local and international refugee law leading to high rejection rates – 96% rejection rate. The result of the failures in the asylum management system is that asylum seekers live in limbo, without status for up to 15 years and longer. The effects of which are multi-layered including financial, physical and psychosocial. It also results in asylum seekers being undocumented, exposing them to further abuse, discrimination and persecution. AISA will use the research to develop a people-centred campaign to hold government accountable and to change perceptions towards asylum seekers and refugees in the country.


Susan Tolmay has been working in the area of gender and women’s rights for over seven years. Over the years she has been involved in a range of programmes around gender and the media, gender justice and mainly gender and governance. Her work in the area of gender and governance has related to issues of representation and participation of women in political decision making in general but with a specific focus on gender and local governance. She has conducted and coordinated research on gender and local government in ten Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and has co-edited the publication series At the Coalface: Gender and Local Government in Southern Africa. She has also been involved in developing training materials, facilitation and developing gender and gender-based violence strategies and action plans for local councils in the SADC Region.

Date: Tuesday 20 November 2018

Time: 12.30 -13.30

Venue: ACMS Seminar Room 2163, South East Wing, Second Floor, Solomon Mahlangu House, University of the Witwatersrand East Campus