The closure of a Durban refugee reception centre has left asylum seekers in limbo

The Durban Refugee Reception Centre has been closed since March. (Photo: Nokulunga Majola)

The Durban Refugee Reception Centre has been closed since lockdown was instituted in March. Since then, the documentation of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers has expired.

The Coalition of the Poor has called on the Minister of Home Affairs to take urgent steps at refugee reception centres nationwide and place additional resources at their disposal so that visas can be renewed without further delay. 

This comes after two immigrants alleged that police assaulted them in Durban on 16 October.

Azuri Muhuli, 24, and Bushambela Yakobo, 26, both from the DRC, say police assaulted them when they could not produce valid asylum seeker visas. 

Muhuli’s had expired in July and he had not been able to renew it; Yakobo’s had been stolen, and he had not been able to renew it, but he had an affidavit to say so. 

They say they were beaten, detained, insulted and then released without charge. They have reported the matter to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

According to the Coalition statement, “there are tens of thousands of asylum seekers whose visas have expired during the lockdown. The assurance by the department of home affairs that expired permits are still valid clearly carries no weight if this de facto extension is not even recognised by SAPS.”

The organisation is calling on the minister of police to issue an assurance that SAPS is instructed not to victimise immigrants.

The Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) refugee reception centre in Durban has been closed since the March Covid-19 lockdown.

“While DHA services have re-opened for South African nationals, the department’s failure to open services to foreign nationals is a clear example of discrimination… placing an unbearable burden on refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom have suffered through months of lockdown-related unemployment with no recourse to social relief,” said the Coalition.

Echoing the organisation’s sentiments, Daniel Byamungu Dunia, executive director of the Africa Solidarity Network (ASN), said Covid-19 has created more challenges for refugees. 

Dunia said many refugees’ permits and asylum seekers’ visas have expired, including his.

“My refugee status and my passport are expired. The problem is that if you are carrying an expired visa, Durban metro police and the SAPS are arresting people right and left. 

“We are faced with too much police brutality. They keep innocent refugees and asylum seekers in custody. As we speak, we have a high number of refugees and asylum seekers in custody due to expired documents,” said Dunia.

He said although the minister of home affairs had declared that permit visas are extended until 31 January 2021, this was not being respected.

Dunia said money is being frozen in their accounts by the banks; people with expired documents cannot access social grants and they cannot travel.

Yasmin Rajah, director of refugee social services at the Diakonia Centre in Durban, said children’s admission to schools was being made difficult because of expired documents.

She said even when the refugee centre was open, newly arrived asylum seekers had battled to get appointments because of lack of capacity: there were long queues and problems with systems, and most asylum seekers were being rejected.

Department of home affairs spokesperson David Hlabane said, “The refugee reception centres will remain closed until 31 January 2021, or until the Republic of South Africa declares them open. 

“All stakeholders, refugees and asylum seekers will be notified when the refugee reception centres are declared open.”

Home Affairs deporting refugees part of Cape Town protests

The Home Affairs Department has reminded citizens that there are foreign nationals who are in the country legally and are allowed to conduct business in terms of the applicable laws of the country

The Department of Home Affairs has initiated the deportation process of 20 foreign nationals, who were part of hundreds others, who had camped outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cape Town, back in 2019.

“The deportation of these foreign nationals follows a successful law enforcement operation which was undertaken by the Department of Home Affairs’ Inspectorate officials, supported by SAPS, the City of Cape Town and the departments of Social Development and Health, at the temporary facility at Paint City in Bellville, Cape Town,” the department said in a statement on Friday, 6 November 2020.

The refugees had told government they either want to be allowed to go home or another country on the continent, as they had had enough of being on the receiving end of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

The demonstrations quickly turned ugly and they ended up spending months on Greenmarket Square and occupying the Central Methodist Church until April 2020. Government then opted to move the refugees to a number of shelters and camps, after the country went under lockdown and measures had to be put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The deportation of the 20 foreign nationals followed due process and was confirmed by the court on 02 and 03 November 2020 in terms of the immigration laws of the country. The affected foreign nationals have already been transferred to Lindela Repatriation Centre for deportation purposes,”

The Department of Home Affairs

Refugees not seeking integration into local communities

At least 12 other foreign nationals had been set to reappear in court on Friday, 6 November 2020, in a case in which they have rejected the option of integration into local communities and instead want the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate them to a third country, preferably Canada.

The Home Affairs department and its asylum structures have embarked on a project to deal with all the backlogs in asylum processes, including appeals. The project is partly funded by the UNHCR as part of their commitment to assisting SA in clearing the backlogs in the asylum processes. The Minister of Home Affairs would like to extend his sincere gratitude to the UNHCR for its intervention. The funds would be used to employ additional lawyers on a temporary basis to assist in the asylum processes

Cybersecurity: Protect your privacy from hackers, spies, and the government

"I have nothing to hide" was once the standard response to surveillance programs utilizing cameras, border checks, and casual questioning by law enforcement.

Privacy used to be considered a concept generally respected in many countries -- at least, in the West -- with a few changes to rules and regulations here and there often made only in the name of the common good.

Things have changed, and not for the better.

China's Great Firewall, the UK's Snooper's Charter, the US' mass surveillance and bulk data collection -- compliments of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Edward Snowden's whistleblowing -- Russia's insidious election meddling, and countless censorship and communication blackout schemes across the Middle East are all contributing to a global surveillance state in which privacy is a luxury of the few and not a right of the many.

As surveillance becomes a common factor of our daily lives, privacy is in danger of no longer being considered an intrinsic right.

Everything from our web browsing to mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) products installed in our homes have the potential to erode our privacy and personal security, and you cannot depend on vendors or ever-changing surveillance rules to keep them intact.

Having "nothing to hide" doesn't cut it anymore. We must all do whatever we can to safeguard our personal privacy. Taking the steps outlined below can not only give you some sanctuary from spreading surveillance tactics but also help keep you safe from cyberattackers.

Data management is at the heart of privacy

Data is a vague concept and can encompass such a wide range of information that it is worth briefly breaking down different collections before examining how each area is relevant to your privacy and security.

Personally Identifiable Information

A roundup of the best software and apps for Windows and Mac computers, as well as iOS and Android devices, to keep yourself safe from malware and viruses.

Known as PII, this can include your name, physical home address, email address, telephone numbers, date of birth, marital status, Social Security numbers (US)/National Insurance numbers (UK), and other information relating to your medical status, family members, employment, and education.

Why does it matter? All this data, whether lost in different data breaches or stolen piecemeal through phishing campaigns, can provide attackers with enough information to conduct identity theft, take out loans using your name, and potentially compromise online accounts that rely on security questions being answered correctly. In the wrong hands, this information can also prove to be a gold mine for advertisers lacking a moral backbone.

Browsing habits and website visits

Internet activity is monitored by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and can be hijacked. While there is little consumers can do about attacks at the ISP level, the web pages you visit can also be tracked by cookies, which are small bits of text that are downloaded and stored by your browser. Browser plugins may also track your activity across multiple websites.

Why does it matter? Cookies are used to personalize internet experiences and this can include tailored advertising. However, such tracking can go too far, as shown when the unique identifiers added to a cookie are then used across different services and on various marketing platforms. Such practices are often considered intrusive.

Today's security threats have expanded in scope and seriousness. There can now be millions -- or even billions -- of dollars at risk when information security isn't handled properly.

Message and email content

Our email accounts are often the pathway that can provide a link to all our other valuable accounts, as well as a record of our communication with friends, families, and colleagues.

Why does it matter? If an email account acts as a singular hub for other services, a single compromise can snowball into the hijack of many accounts and services.

Online purchases, financial information

When you conduct a transaction online, this information may include credentials for financial services such as PayPal, or credit card information including card numbers, expiry dates, and security codes.

Why does it matter? Cybercriminals who steal financial services credentials through phishing and fraudulent websites, who eavesdrop on your transactions through Man-in-The-Middle (MiTM) attacks, or who utilize card-skimming malware, can steal these details when they are not secured.

Once this information has been obtained, unauthorized transactions can be made, clone cards may be created, or this data may also be sold on to others in the Dark Web.

Medical records and DNA profiles

Another entrant to the mix, hospitals are now transitioning to electronic records and home DNA services store genetic information belonging to their users, submitted in the quest for health-related queries or tracing family histories.

Why does it matter? The loss of medical information, which is deeply personal, can be upsetting and result in disastrous consequences for everyone involved. 

When it comes to DNA, however, the choice is ours whether to release this information -- outside of law enforcement demands -- and it is often the use of ancestry services that release this data in the first place. Privacy concerns relating to DNA searches have been cited for sales downturns with some popular home ancestry kits.


Home Affairs lifts visa requirements for several nationalities The South African Department of Home Affairs announces the removal of visa requirements for several nationalities.

Several airlines denied boarding to some international passengers on flights bound for South African airports last week, even though South Africa’s borders had reopened.

Confusion over South Africa’s entry requirements forced airlines operating flights to South Africa to refuse passage to passengers of certain nationalities, during the first few days of South Africa’s borders reopening.


Visa-free entry to the Republic of South Africa, for citizens of foreign countries, was temporarily suspended at the start of the national lockdown in March.

In a document received by the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA), on 4 October, the Department of Home Affairs confirmed that visa-exemption status has been reinstated for citizens of several countries.


The letter states that the Minister of Home Affairs has reinstated visa-exemption status for citizens of the following countries, when entering South Africa:

  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Singapore
  • USA
  • UK
  • France
  • Portugal
  • Iran


The document from the Department of Home Affairs states that nationals from the 11 countries listed are free to visit South Africa provided they comply with the applicable health and hygiene protocols in place.

This comes as a result of airlines refusing carriage to passengers from certain countries when boarding flights to South Africa last week.


The document grants permission to travellers who intend using South African airports as a transit point for connecting flights to other destinations, provided health and hygiene protocols are complied with.

Mkhize clears up South Africa’s current travel and quarantine rules

 Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has provided answers on some of the government’s key level 1 lockdown regulations.

Responding in a written parliamentary Q&A to the Democratic Alliance, Mkhize detailed the rules in place for travellers who are arriving from other countries and those South African who cannot self-quarantine at home.

His answers are outlined in more detail below.

What happens to persons who cannot self-quarantine because of insufficient space in their own homes, but equally cannot afford to pay for government quarantine in a 4-star hotel?

South Africans that are unable to self-quarantine at home are directed to a state-run facility where they will be able to quarantine. There is no charge for the use of this facility.

Do students from other countries have to undergo weekly Covid-19 tests in line with (the level 1) regulations?

Daily commuters from neighbouring countries who attend or teach at a school in the Republic, as well as children below the age of five years, are exempted from the provisions of subparagraph (3)(b) but must comply with the re-entry requirements set out by the Department of Home Affairs.

With reference to persons visiting accepted overseas destinations on holiday but cannot access Covid-19 testing overseas, how are the specified persons accommodated upon their return? 

Such persons would need to quarantine at a designated facility for 10 days or alternatively do a Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test immediately upon entry into the country, once the results are available such person is able to apply for early release from quarantine, the period for this is process can be between 24 to 72 hours.

Under South Africa’s level 1 lockdown rules, travellers will be screened for any Covid-19 symptoms and will also be screened for contact with people who have been in contact with others who could have had Covid-19.

Travellers will also need to provide proof of accommodation addresses in case they need to self-isolate. International travel around the world has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Those who are found to have Covid-19 after entering the country will be required to isolate for 10 days at their own cost.

Do people visiting accepted overseas destinations on holiday have to apply for self-quarantine before their return? 

No, persons visiting accepted overseas destinations do not need to apply for self-quarantine before their return as requirements and procedures for level one have changed aligning with easing of lockdown restrictions. Persons returning into the country are required to produce negative PCR tests which are not older than 72 hours from date of travel.

The Department of Home Affairs published its updated list of high-risk countries on 19 October.

Leisure travellers from high-risk countries will not be permitted. The exception will be business travellers with scarce and critical skills including diplomats, repatriated persons, investors and people participating in professional sporting and, events will undergo the same health protocol screenings.

The previous list of high-risk destination had 60 countries. The latest update carries only 22.

The new list as follows:

  • Argentina
  • Bangladesh
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Italy
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Russia
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
  • USA