Document Type

Migration Policy Briefs

Publication Date



Balsillie School of International Affairs


South Africa’s policy on refugees has its origins in the country’s much-criticized Aliens Control Act (96 of 1991) (ACA), which in numerous respects has failed to provide adequate guarantees to applicants (de la Hunt 1998,2002: 123; Human Rights Watch 1998:170; Handmaker 1999a, 1999b). Until the recent implementation of its first ever Refugees Act (Act 130 of 1998) in April 2000, South Africa’s policy on refugees depended on the ACA, with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) responsible for enforcement.

This paper evaluates the process of refugee policy reform that began in 1996. This process led to the Refugees Act in 1998. The Act’s accompanying regulations were only released one and a half years later in April 2000. More recently, the Chairperson of the Refugee Appeals Board released the first “Draft Rules” in June 2000, which have since gone through several additional drafts but have not yet been finalized. The Ministry of Home Affairs has furthermore proposed a Refugees Amendment Bill and accompanying explanatory Memorandum in 2001.

This policy process has been controversial, both in its making and in the final product (but see Handmaker, de la Hunt, and Klaaren 2001). This paper focuses on several particularly contentious issues, notably temporary protection, repatriation, the proposal for containment of refugees in “reception centres,” the arbitrariness of the refugee procedure as it currently operates and conflicts between the new refugee regime and proposed migration policies.