How do I find out if my application for refugee status has been approved or rejected?
When you return to the refugee office to renew your permit after your second interview, they may have already made a decision about your application. They will then give you a letter telling you that your application for refugee status has either been approved or rejected. If they have not yet made a decision on your application, renew your permit as usual and return again when it is about to expire and maybe they will have made a decision by then.
If your asylum application is approved, you will be given a “Section 24 permit” (also known as a “Refugee Permit”) which officially recognises you as a refugee in South Africa. Currently, this permit is valid for a period of four years and you must renew it upon its expiry date.
Once you have been declared or recognised as a refugee, you are also entitled to apply for a refugee identity document and a travel document. A refugee identity document is a maroon booklet that will have your picture and details in. You need this to apply for your United Nations Convention Travel Document, which takes the place of your passport.
What can I do if my application for refugee status has been rejected and I have been given a ‘must leave’ letter?
If your asylum application is rejected, this means that the DHA does not recognise you as a refugee. You will receive a letter stating that you must leave the country or file an appeal usually within 30 days of being told of the rejection. Depending on the reasons for the rejection of your application, you will need to appeal to the Refugee Appeal Board or the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs. If you think that you do qualify for refugee status it would be a good idea to seek legal advice from an organisation such as Lawyers for Human Rights, Wits Law Clinic, UCT Law Clinic or Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University – Refugee Rights Centre.
If your decision is rejected as being manifestly unfounded, abusive or fraudulent, it will be automatically reviewed by the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs. You may not be able to appear in person in front of this committee; however, you can provide a written statement or comments saying why you disagree with the negative decision. This needs to be submitted to the refugee office which handed you the rejection letter or to the Standing Committee directly. You can get a legal counsellor to help you with this if you wish.
If your application is rejected for other reasons (such as being unfounded), then you will have to appeal to the Refugee Appeal Board. This process is described below.
The Refugee Appeal Board is an independent tribunal which offers asylum seekers, who have their applications rejected, a second chance to prove their claims. It is important to seek legal assistance in preparing for your appeal. This usually includes a written statement where you argue why your claim should be approved. There are a number of NGOs that offer free legal assistance to asylum seekers with their appeals.
The appeal must be handed in to the refugee reception office where you received your letter of rejection. In turn, this office hands over the case to the Refugee Appeal Board. The Board will call you for an oral hearing where you once again are given the opportunity to present your case and reasons for applying for asylum. You will get your appointment for the oral hearing at the Refugee Reception Office when you go there to extend your asylum seeker permit. Note that you cannot phone to receive this information.
It is important for you to be clear about the reasons why you left your country as well as the reasons why your life would be in danger if you were to return. This information is more important in this hearing than whether you have a job here or not or whether you are currently studying in South Africa.
When you have finished your appeal hearing, you should expect a decision by the Refugee Appeal Board within 90 days. In the meantime, you must continue to renew your asylum seeker permit and ensure that it remains valid. You are still allowed to work and study as before until such time as you are required to leave the country.