New legislation will help the South African government to monitor the entry of asylum seekers into the country, an official told IRIN on Friday.
The Immigration Amendment Bill, approved by parliament on Thursday, requires all asylum seekers to report to a refugee reception centre within 14 days of entry, said Mike Ramagoma, a spokesman for the ministry of home affairs.
Ramagoma noted that the existing law allowed asylum seekers "as soon as they have received their asylum transit permit at the port of entry to travel anywhere in the country and stay for whatever length of time".
Under the new legislation, an asylum seeker will have to qualify for refugee status, which includes being interviewed at a reception centre within two weeks of arrival, he explained.
However, human rights advocates, like Chris Watters who serves on the Immigration Law Committee of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, have pointed out that the 14-day period was an unreasonable time frame.
"There could be any number of reasons why an asylum seeker cannot make it to a refugee reception centre within 14 days - there are only five such centres in the country. What about AIDS orphans or women asylum seekers from war-torn countries, who lack resources to make it to the centres? I know that the centre in Pretoria is open only once a week," Watters said.
He noted that there were tensions between some provisions of the new bill and the Refugee Act, which allowed asylum seekers entry into the country without any impediments. "If an asylum seeker, in terms of the new immigration bill, fails to make it to the centre, he or she is liable to legal action," Watters added.
Ramagoma said the government was simultaneously attempting to capacitate the department of home affairs by increasing the number of immigration officers assigned to determine refugee status and increasing the number of reception centres to speed up the screening process.
The new immigration legislation has also removed the requirement of a training levy imposed on foreigners who want to start a business in South Africa. "This is indicative of our attempts to open up and attract more skills and investment to the country," Ramagoma said.