SA's asylum system failing: Amnesty International

Acting Director-General of Home Affairs Thulani Mavuso, responds to criticism of the department's amnesty programme.

CAPE TOWN - Amnesty International says South Africa's broken asylum system leaves thousands of applicants undocumented, causing tension with locals.

“In persisting with a broken system that leaves those trying to claim asylum undocumented and in limbo, the government is causing a divide and inflaming tensions between South African citizens and fellow Africans living in the country,” said Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa.

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“It’s shocking that a country such as South Africa trivialises the vulnerability of those fleeing desperate circumstances.”

Refugees and asylum seekers have been camping outside the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for weeks, asking to be moved out of South Africa, where they say they do not feel safe after a wave of xenophobic violence.

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The Home Affairs department's Acting Director-General Thulani Mavuso said an unprecedented number of people applied for asylum in 2008 and 2009 and appealed when the applications failed.

He said some applicants remain in the country for years on renewed asylum application visas.

IN PICTURES: Refuge for fleeing foreign nationals

Mavuso said the government would not be creating camps or accommodation for asylum seekers and would be continuing with their asylum seeker management regime.

The acting DG said the process has been made difficult by people abusing the system.

IN PICTURES: Foreign nationals want out of SA

South Africa is home to 268,000 refugees and asylum seekers, according to government statistics. They are mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and DR Congo.

The country boasts some of the world's most progressive asylum policies, allowing foreigners to apply for refugee status within the country itself and to work during the process.

READ: UN commission mum on refugees wanting out of SA

But the UN has voiced concern over the more than 50,000 pending asylum claims -- the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rights groups say the number of people granted refugee status has remained unchanged for the past decade.

- Additional reporting Reuters and AFP