THOUSANDS of Angolan refugees could be expelled from South Africa in the next few weeks as the government ends refugee status related to the Angolan civil war.
Deputy Home Affairs Minister Fatima Chohan said on Thursday that Angolan refugees needed to come forward to update their refugee status before Saturday.
Ms Chohan said only 60% of the 6‚900 registered Angolan refugees had heeded the department’s call to either take up the offer of voluntarily being repatriated and settled back in Angola with the assistance of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or applying to stay in South Africa.
South Africa is the last country in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to follow the UNHCR directives issued in October 2009 to end refugee status for Angolans who fled their country due to the civil war‚ which ended in 2002.
The UNHCR undertook a consultation process with African states and recommended that this be done to encourage Angolans to return home and rebuild their country through the implementation of the cessation of the refugee dispensation.
Ms Chohan said this process was a new experience for South African officials and a lot had been learnt about helping people to reclaim their citizenship in their country of origin. The department’s offices had established special desks with representatives from the UNHCR and Angolan staff from the embassy to help applicants and assist with documentation.
She acknowledged the process was complex as some refugees who had come to South Africa without any documentation had difficulty getting their Angolan citizenship verified.
She said of those who came forward‚ 56% had applied to resume their Angolan citizenship and had applied for Angolan passports. An additional 16% had applied for temporary residents’ permits in terms of the South African Immigration Act. The permits are valid for two years‚ to enable people to wrap up their businesses or complete their studies.
She said a small number of Angolans had applied for continued protection and their cases would be evaluated by the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs. Others were opting for spousal permanent resident status as they were married to South Africans.
"We are pleased with the positive turnout and wish to reiterate that the one-stop service points will continue to operate until Saturday at 3pm to assist and process those that have not visited our offices as yet‚” she said.
The department’s deputy director-general for immigration services‚ Jacky Mckay‚ said there many Angolans in South Africa who were not refugees. Some who fought on the South African side during the civil war‚ as part of Koevoet or the 32-Battalion against Fapla‚ Swapo and the Cubans‚ were granted permanent residential status a long time ago. © BDlive 2013