Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

 The Constitutional Court’s interpretation of the Refugees Act has serious implications for all asylum seekers who do not immediately present themselves at refugee reception offices upon entering SA, lobby group Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) argued on Thursday.

 LHR attorneys argued in the Constitutional Court on Thursday that a Rwandan asylum seeker, who was allegedly sent to SA to eliminate exiled opponents of the country’s president, Paul Kagame, should have his asylum application considered.

Alex Ruta, a former member of the civilian arm of the republican guards in Rwanda’s National Security Services came to SA without the necessary permits in December 2014.

After discovering the details of his mission to SA was to assassinate members of the Rwandan opposition, Ruta claims to have informed the Hawks who took him into protective custody.

However, that was not until he had been arrested in March 2016 for driving an unlicensed motorcycle and for driving without a driver’s licence, as well as for having a fraudulent asylum seeker permit. 

You run the risk of sending people back to countries where they could face persecution and have their lives in danger. That’s why you heard the counsel referring to section 2 of the refugee act.
Faith Munyati
LHR lawyer

After serving one month at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in Pretoria, correctional services officials informed him that he was entitled to be released on parole but would not be released until they had confirmed his immigration status. 

The home affairs officials explained that they regarded him as an illegal immigrant and his convictions and sentence disqualified him from having his refugee status confirmed.  Home affairs therefore arranged for his repatriation to Rwanda.

Ruta then applied for an urgent interdict against the department at the high court allowing him to apply for asylum. He  succeeded.

However, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld an application by the department to have the decision reversed.

Home affairs has argued that section 4 (1) of the Refugees Act, which deals with the offences committed by potential asylum seekers, was applicable to crimes committed inside SA as well.

Ruta’s attorneys instead interpreted the section to refer  “to crimes committed in outside countries”.

The Rwandan national’s case also deserved a hearing because he faced possible persecution upon return to Rwanda, according to LHR lawyer Faith Munyati.

“You run the risk of sending people back to countries where they could face persecution and have their lives in danger. That’s why you heard the counsel referring to section 2 of the refugee act. Section 2 embodies a principle that is the cornerstone of refugee law — the principle of nonreturn, and you cannot turn away someone to a country where they possibly faced harm or persecution,” she said.

Home affairs further argued that Ruta had ample time to apply for asylum and his failure to do so implied he had no intention to apply.

Judgment has been reserved.

 


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