In a landmark ruling on Tuesday, the Constitutional Court declared significant sections of the Refugees Act as unconstitutional, marking a pivotal victory for asylum seekers. The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, the applicant in the case, celebrated the decision, anticipating a profound impact on the lives of those escaping persecution.
The contested sections of the Act had stipulated that asylum seeker would be automatically deemed to have abandoned their application if they failed to renew their visa within one month of its expiration. The Constitutional Court, in a unanimous decision, categorically identified refugees as an “especially vulnerable group,” emphasizing the need for compassion in addressing their plight.
The court’s ruling directly challenged the principle of ‘non-refoulement,’ asserting that refugees or asylum seekers should not be compelled to return to a country where they face persecution. Additionally, the invalidated sections were found to contradict the Refugees Act’s provisions that prohibit the return of individuals to countries where they are under threat.
James Chapman, the head of advocacy and legal advisor at the Scalabrini Centre, expressed the profound impact of the decision. “It’s going to be very, very impactful, very meaningful,” he said. He highlighted the previous challenges faced by asylum seekers who, due to the now-overturned sections, were routinely excluded from the asylum process, leading to arrest, detention, and potential deportation to perilous environments.
Chapman added, “Now they have solace, they have the protection that they’re not going to face being returned to their country where they wouldn’t be safe, where their life, liberty, fundamental human rights would be at risk.”
The ruling concluded with the Department of Home Affairs being ordered to cover the costs of the legal proceedings. The decision reflects a significant step toward upholding the rights and dignity of asylum seekers, reinforcing the commitment to providing sanctuary for those in need.