Refugee Law South Africa

Standing Committee

The Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs reviews manifestly unfounded asylum claims, may withdraw refugee status or certify that a refugee will remain a refugee indefinitely. More…

Refugee Appeal Board

The Refugee Appeal Board hears appeals lodged against claims for refugee deemed unfounded. Notice of appeal must be filed in person within 30 days of the rejection. More…

Permanent Residence

A refugee who has been a refugee in South Africa for five years is eligible for permanent residence once the Standing Committee has certified that he or she will remain a refugee indefinitely. More…

Judicial Review

The decisions made by the Department of Home Affairs, the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs and the Refugee Appeal Board, or the failure to take a decision by one of these bodies, may be reviewed by the High Court. More…

Equality Courts

Neither the State nor any person may unfairly discriminate against any person. Asylum seekers or refugees who have been unfairly discriminated upon on the ground of their citizenship may institute proceedings before the Equality Courts. More…


Upon application, the Minister may regularise failed asylum seekers, or refugees whose status has been withdrawn, for a specified or unspecified period of time, when special circumstances exist which justify such a decision. More…

Who is a refugee?

In South Africa, pursuant to section 3 of the Refugees Act, 130 of 1998, a person qualifies for refugee if that person:

  1. owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted by reason of his or her race, tribe, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country, or, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his or her former habitual residence is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it, or;
  2. owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing or disrupting public order in either a part or the whole of his or her country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his or her place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge elsewhere, or;
  3. is a dependent of a person contemplated in paragraph (1) or (2) above. Dependents include the spouse, any unmarried dependent child or any destitute, aged or infirm member of the family of an asylum seeker or refugee [Act, 1].

Section 2 of the Refugees Act entrenches the international law obligation of non-refoulement and adds that no person may be compelled to return to or remain in a country where his or her life, physical safety or freedom would be threatened on account of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or other events seriously disturbing or disrupting public order in either part or the whole of that country.

The Act specifies that “social group” includes, among others, a group of persons of particular gender, sexual orientation, disability, class or caste.

What we do?

RefugeeLaw assists asylum seekers and refugees and may:

South Africa

“The applicant’s fear should be considered well-founded if he can establish, to a reasonable degree, that his continued stay in his country of origin has become intolerable to him for the reasons stated in the definition, or would for the same reasons be intolerable if he returned there”

Hathaway, J The Law of Refugee Status (Butterworths, 1991) 75

“Deportation to another state that would result in the imposition of a cruel, unusual or degrading punishment is in conflict with the fundamental values of the Constitution”

Abdi v Minister of Home Affairs (734/10) [2011] ZASCA 2 (15 February 2011) More…

“Banks may, in the absence of an official identification […], rely on the permits issued in terms of section 22 and section 24 of the Refugees Act as an alternative for asylum seekers and refugees when transacting with, or entering or conducting a business relationship with, such persons”

FICA, PCC n° 03A More…