Refugee law guides launched for legal practitioners

August 1st, 2017

Gauteng Local Division High Court Judge Raylene Keightley, was the keynote speaker at the launch of the Refugee guidelines for legal practitioners. The launch took place on World Refugee Day on 20 June.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Pro.Bono.Org in partnership with Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, Fasken Martineau and Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa, launched three refugee law guides for legal practitioners. The launch took place on World Refugee Day on 20 June in Johannesburg. ProBono.Org said in commemoration of World Refugee Day, it recognises the efforts of the private legal profession in ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable group has access to justice and quality legal services.

The event was also a call for more legal practitioners to get involved in refugee law and the guides provide a resource for legal practitioners – who have limited knowledge of this area of law – so that they can assist refugees and asylum seekers. Keynote speaker, Judge Raylene Keightley, of the Gauteng Local Division of the High Court, said the initiative by ProBono.Org and the three law firms involved was an important one.

Judge Keightley said the Refugees Act 130 of 1998 is an important part of South Africa’s (SA) arsenal of human rights. She said SA is proud of the protection it offers in terms of human rights legislation and the Constitution. However, she added that very often the protection of refugees is set aside, because there is an unfortunate tendency for people not to worry about things that do not directly affect them.

Judge Keightley pointed out that it was critically important to understand that the Refugees Act is part of SA’s human rights legislation. She said the Act puts SA’s commitment to join the global action to protect refugees and commitment to share communal burden with other countries in practice. She added that one of the central features of the international protection of refugees and of the Act the principle of non-retoulement.

Judge Keightley said that refugee law is not an alternative to immigration but about protecting people who are desperate for a well-defined reason. ‘It is a human rights issue and not about the back door system to immigration,’ Judge Keightley added. She pointed out that the process of seeking asylum is a complicated and challenging process and it is in that regard that refugees get proper knowledgeable assistance.

Judge Keightley, however, pointed out that there has been an increase in the number of applications on the urgent court rolls for urgent release from Lindela Repatriation Centre on the basis that applicants wish to apply for asylum, or in some cases asylum seekers have not fully finished their review process. She said that these kinds of applications are brought to court without giving the State Prosecutors enough time to consider whether the applications are valid or not.

Judge Keightley added that this puts the court at a disadvantage, because the court is then unable to do its job and it is unable to properly balance the interest of the state by not allowing the refugee law to be used. ‘There is a real need that the courts can have confidence that the cases they get are genuine and refugees get proper legal skills to build a case on review in appropriate circumstances,’ Judge Keightley said.

 Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Aug) DR 7.