Refugees and asylum seekers queue at the refugee reception office in North End, Nelson Mandela Bay. Picture: THE HERALD
Refugees and asylum seekers queue at the refugee reception office in North End, Nelson Mandela Bay. Picture: THE HERALD

SA has been singled out in a UN report for skewed figures on asylum seekers.

The UNHCR Global Trends report on displacement‚ released on Monday‚ showed that the number of asylum seekers in SA dropped by nearly 900‚000 in just one year.

SA moved down to fourth in the world — behind Germany‚ the US and Turkey — for its asylum-seeker population‚ which was recorded at 218‚300 in the latest report‚ down from 1.1-million in 2015.

The asylum seeker population is made up of people with pending claims for refugee status‚ and stood at 2.8-million globally at the end of last year.

That was a decrease from 3.2-million in 2015‚ but the drop was mainly accounted for by "a sharp reduction in the asylum-seeker population reported by SA"‚ the report said.

"Excluding data from SA‚ which has seen variations in numbers in 2015 and 2016 largely due to changes in statistical methodologies‚ there has clearly been a sustained increase in the global asylum-seeker population."

Department of Home Affairs spokesperson Thabo Mokgola said the number of asylum seekers in SA had not dropped‚ and that the department reported both "inactive" and "active" cases to the UNHCR‚ which then only considered the "active" cases.

"The reporting only focused on the active cases‚" Mokgola said. "There are those who‚ for reasons unknown to us‚ have opted to contravene the condition of their permits by not visiting the centres at the expiry of their permits."

The report said SA received 35‚400 new individual asylum claims in 2016‚ with most coming from Zimbabwe‚ followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

Advocacy officer Corey Johnson from the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town‚ a nongovernmental organisation that aids refugees‚ said the drop in reported "active" numbers showed that the current system "pushed people into irregularity".

"It’s very difficult for many to keep their documents valid‚ especially when the adjudication process takes years.

"Despite the drop in applicants‚ access remains difficult for asylum seekers‚ particularly with the refugee resettlement office closures‚ and many have reported to us that they have been unable to lodge their applications when they visit the few remaining refugee resettlement offices that are open for applications."

One in every 113 people around the world has been forcibly displaced and needs protection‚ and 65-million people worldwide have been displaced due to war‚ with Syria being the worst affected‚ the UNHRC report said.

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