How to apply for asylum in South Africa

You must disclose your intention to seek refuge in South Africa at the point of entry. When you do this, you should be awarded a ‘asylum transit visa’ that allows you to go to a Refugee Reception Office (“RRO”) to register your claim.

Within five days of entering South Africa, you must ask for asylum. You must make your application at a Refugee Reception Office (or similar location approved by the Director-General of Home Affairs). Your biometrics and other information will be collected there. Scalabrini has created a handy guide on applying for asylum online, which is available in both English and French.

If you did not arrive at a port of entry – or if you did, but were not awarded a ‘asylum transit visa’ – you will be interviewed at the RRO by an Immigration Officer to determine why you do not have this visa. They may allow you to petition for asylum based on your circumstances.

If you apply for asylum more than five days after arriving in South Africa and have valid grounds for the delay, you must explain why.

To seek for asylum, you must first meet with an RRO. RRO has been accepting appointments by email; here are the steps to take:

  1. Please send an email to newasylum2022@dha.gov.za. They will send you an application form to complete
  2. The completed application form has to be sent to newasylum2022@dha.gov.za
  3. In the subject line of your email, write only the name of the RRO where you want to apply e.g., Gqeberha, Durban, Desmond Tutu, or Musina
  4. Include a #711-reference number in your application if you already had your fingerprints taken by the Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) RRO.
  5. You have the right to an interpreter during the process. If you are not given this, request it!
  6. Be cautious when filling up your application form. Everything you fill out in this form must be accurate and factual. Make sure you write down all of your children and spouses or permanent partners, whether they are in South Africa or not – or even if you don’t know where they are.
  7. Your application will be automatically sent to the RRO of your choice. The staff at that RRO will then send you an appointment letter via email for a date upon which you have to report to the RRO.

Appointments are made on a first-come, first-served basis, but also on the basis of country intake days, to assure the availability of telephonic translators. The amount of appointments offered on a given day is determined on the availability of the specific RRO.

Most websites linked in this article are in English. If you need, use Google Translate, Tarjimly, or any other translation app.

What happens after I applied for asylum?

Remember the following when you are given an appointment with an RRO.

You have the right to an interpreter during the process. If you are not given this, request it!

You will be required to furnish biometrics to the RRO. Biometrics will be collected of any children, spouses, or other dependents who accompany you.

If you married outside of South Africa, you must present your original marriage certificate. You and your partner must present an affidavit proving your marital status. You will also be interrogated individually on the same day by the Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO), who will decide whether your marriage is genuine.

You will be booked for an interview with an RSDO after you have submitted your asylum application. This could happen right away, or you could be requested to come in on a different day.

You and your dependents must be issued an asylum seeker document (also known as a ‘Section 22’ asylum seeker visa) after asking for refuge. Each member of your family unit must have their own document. Make copies of these documents and preserve them in a safe place.

How is the interview with the Refugee Status Determination Officer?

The Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO) must explain the procedure to you before the interview begins. If they do not, request that they do so.

During the interview, the RSDO should question you why you fled your country and why returning would be dangerous. They may ask for evidence or clarification on what you say. Spouses will be examined separately if they are not filing their own refugee application. The interview must be videotaped. Your asylum claim will be denied if it is revealed that you provided false, dishonest, or misleading information.

Following the interview, the RSDO must make a decision (the “RSDO decision”). They may make a decision immediately following the interview or may invite you to return on another day. If you are asked to return another day, you must return to the same Refugee Reception Office where you applied for asylum. The decision should be communicated to you in writing. The outcome could be to give you refugee status or to deny your asylum application. Make copies of the ruling and preserve them in a secure place.

What happens if you are recognized as a Refugee?

If you are awarded refugee status in South Africa, you will be issued a ‘Section 24’ permission (unless you are excluded for whatever reason). This will allow you to stay in South Africa for four years (after which you can request for an extension). It is critical to understand that being granted refugee status in South Africa has particular rights and duties, both for you as a refugee and for the government.

A ‘section 24’ refugee status document should include the following information:

  • Be valid for four years (unless withdrawn or terminated earlier),
  • Be granted to the main file holder and all dependents included in that holder’s refugee file (these are the dependents indicated in your initial application or who have been successfully added to your file).
  • The document must be reapplied for at least 90 days before it expires.

A person who has been awarded a’section 24′ refugee recognition document must complete the following:

  • Apply for an identity card right away (this’refugee ID’ is valid for the same period of time as the’section 22′ refugee status paperwork).
  • Cannot leave South Africa without a refugee travel document and must apply for one if they intend to travel.
  • Any change in address must be reported to the Refugee Reception Office personnel.

The refugee certificate also indicates that it might be revoked ‘if the holder has been convicted and punished for a criminal offence’. In addition to these requirements, you must follow South African legislation.

What happens if your asylum application is rejected as ‘unfounded’?

You have the right to appeal if the Refugee Status Determination Officer’s (RSDO) decision on your asylum application is to reject your claim as ‘unfounded’ (the printed decision will include this phrase). When you receive the written verdict, you should be informed of this right away. If you wish to file an appeal, you must do so with the Refugee Appeals Authority within ten working days after receiving the RSDO judgment denying your application.

If you do not submit your appeal application within ten working days, the RSDO’s decision to deny your application will be final. This indicates that your asylum application was denied, and you are no longer permitted to stay in South Africa. If you fail to submit your appeal application within the ten working days, you may be permitted to hand it in ‘late’ if you can prove, with evidence, that you had ‘compelling reasons’ for being late.

What is the Appeal Process?

If you disagree with the decision to deny your asylum claim, you may file an appeal with the Refugee Appeals Authority within the ten-day period specified above. There are specific grounds for appealing a denial of your asylum claim, thus we recommend that you obtain legal counsel on this matter as soon as possible. A list of organizations you can contact can be found in Question 16 of this booklet.

An appeal application must be submitted in a certain format known as a ‘Notice of Appeal’ (available at Form 9 of the Refugees Regulations). This application must be sent to the Refugee Reception Office that has been managing your asylum application. Your appeal application must be sent to the Refugee Appeals Authority by officials at the Refugee Reception Office. You have the right to renew your asylum document once you have submitted your appeal application and are awaiting a judgement from the Refugee Appeals Authority.

Your Notice of Appeal will be reviewed by the Refugee Appeals Authority. They may request an oral hearing from you. They will tell you whether they believe they can make a decision without a hearing. If you want a hearing, you may always request one. If a hearing is held (or if you request one), you will be advised of the date and time. At the appeal hearing, you have the right to legal representation (a lawyer): see Question 16. You can also ask for an interpreter.

If you have a hearing, you will be given the opportunity to speak. Members of the Refugee Appeals Authority will interview you about your asylum application and related issues during this hearing.

The Refugee Appeals Authority will evaluate your asylum appeal and issue a new verdict on your claim in due course. This choice must be documented in writing. If you are given an appeal hearing but do not attend, the Refugee Appeals Authority may reach a decision without your presence.

How long will it take for the Refugee Appeals Authority to make a decision?

The Refugees Act, its Regulations, or the Refugee Appeal Authority’s rules of procedure do not provide a timeframe within which you can expect a decision on your appeal. The cases Authority, on the other hand, has lately undertaken a project to address the massive backlog of cases pending with them.

What happens if your asylum application is rejected as ‘manifestly unfounded’, ‘abusive’, or ‘fraudulent’?

If the RSDO rejects your asylum application as “manifestly unfounded,” “abusive,” or “fraudulent” (as stated in the written decision), it will be automatically referred to the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs (SCRA) for “review.” When the decision is made, you should be informed of this. While you await a ruling from the Standing Committee, you may continue renewing your asylum papers.

What are the possible outcomes of the review process?

The Standing Committee can do one of three things.

They can agree with the decision of the RSDO. In this case you will receive a ‘final’ rejection. This means that your asylum claim has again been rejected and you can no longer legally remain in South Africa. You will be notified of how many days you have in South Africa before you must leave the country. The only way to challenge this decision is by a ‘judicial review’. You will need a lawyer for this. See Legal Assistance for a list of UNHCR’s partner organisations to contact;

They can reject the RSDO’s decision and make their own decision to accept your application. You are given refugee status in this circumstance. This signifies that the Standing Committee has confirmed that you are a refugee. A refugee recognition paperwork must be issued to you.

They can disagree with the RSDO’s decision but send it back for a new ruling. The decision is’remitted’ (sent back) to the Refugee Status Determination Officer, who will conduct a new interview with you and make a new decision on your asylum claim.

What is Judicial Review?

If the decision of the Refugee Appeals Authority or the Standing Committee is a ‘final refusal,’ you must obtain legal assistance immediately. A ‘final rejection’ can only be challenged by judicial review, which can only be done in a High Court. A lawyer is required for this. You can seek legal assistance from a private or pro-bono lawyer (a list of UNHCR partner organizations to contact can be found under Legal Assistance). When hiring a private lawyer, you can check their credentials by visiting the Legal Practise Council website – every lawyer with the right to practice in South Africa is listed there.

Sources: UNHCR Help South Africa

The cover image is somewhere in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Clive Surreal on Unsplash