South Africa

Supreme Court of Appeal gives eight Somalis seeking asylum fresh hope

Pretoria - Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us – except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.

This is according to renowned author Khaled Hosseini, who was quoted by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in its judgment in which it came to the aid of the Somali Association of South Africa and eight of its members, who are desperately trying to obtain refugee status.

The eight Somalis earlier failed in their bid before Home Affairs to obtain refugee status despite claims that they will face persecution and perhaps even death if they were sent back to their country of birth.

They also failed in their Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, bid, where Judge President Dunstan Mlambo had earlier turned down their application to be awarded refugee status.

Five appeal court judges accepted that there was a legitimate State interest and concern to ensure that refugee status was granted only to those who qualified, and to disqualify unfounded applications.

In the case of persons who came to the country to seek asylum and those who might ultimately qualify for refugee status, the SCA also quoted Pope Francis. “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.”

Judge Mahomed Navsa, who wrote the SCA judgment, commented that international TV news channels and other media regularly featured images of refugee crises unfolding in many parts of the world with the attendant human cost.

“The relatively recent stark image of the body of a 3-year-old toddler on a Turkish beach after fleeing from war in Syria springs to mind. The scepticism, to which State authorities and decision-makers are sometimes prone in relation to applications for refugee status, should be tempered by what is set out above (in the quotes).”

The judge added that the prescripts of domestic legislation also played a role.

The SCA held that the decisions of the courts, Constitution, and international practice as reflected in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees handbook, all dictating that an asylum seeker should be assisted to present such a full picture of their circumstances as possible.

The court found that the Home Affairs’ refugees board did not totally consider the eight Somalis’ circumstances before it rejected their applications.

Each of the applicants told the court why they feared returning to Somalia.

The only woman in the group said her home was hit by a grenade during 2006, killing two of her eight children and leaving her with severe injuries. After she was discharged from hospital, she decided to leave Mogadishu and moved south, near the town of Dhobley, where there were also ongoing battles.

She was subsequently injured in an explosion in Dhobley.

In 2008, she moved once again to a camp of internally displaced persons.

The combination of civil war, the constant danger of injury and death and severe deprivation compelled her and her two daughters to leave Somalia. They arrived in South Africa in May 2010, she said.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, ordered that the Refugee Appeal Board had to reconsider their refugee status by the latest on Monday.

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