According to United Nations statistics South Africa accounted for one fifth of the world’s asylum applications, registering a staggering 180 600 applications in 2010 alone, making South Africa the most sought after destination for asylum seekers in the world. Not every one of those persons would have been successful; in fact, if South Africa’s immigration authorities did their job properly, some would have been turned  away, the deserving would be allowed to stay and some would have been found to be ineligible. With regard to ineligibility, South Africa is, under international refugee law,  prohibited from extending protections to persons if there is reason to believe that he or she has been involved in the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This prohibition is contained in the exclusion provisions, found in virtually every domestic refugee act around the world, and is perhaps a country’s first line of defence against becoming a safe haven for international offenders.

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A country’s refugee and immigration laws should, if administered properly, safeguard its territory from individuals attempting to evade justice for serious international crimes. Domestic and international law specifically identify those that it deems undeserving of the protections afforded to refugees. South Africa’s borders however appear to be somewhat leaky and very little has been done to plug that leak. This leak is clearly demonstrated by Rwandan General and suspected war criminal, Faustin Kayumbe Nyamwasa, being granted refugee status in South Africa.

Concerned about the integrity of South African asylum regime and South Africa’s obligations under international criminal law SALC and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants Rights in South Africa (CoRMSA) have initiated legal proceedings to judicially review the South African authorities’ decision to grant Nyamwasa refugee status. The basis for the application is that Nyamwasa is ineligible for the grant of refugee status on  account of his alleged involvement in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Not only does this decision offend international law but it is unlawful under South Africa’s Refugee’s Act which specifically excludes those accused of committing international crimes.

Nyamwasa’s presence in South Africa only came to light after an attempted assassination. One can’t help wondering how many other undesirables are being harboured, knowingly or unknowingly, in South Africa.

For more information see the press release below. Read the rest of this entry »