Refugees and the law

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, it is estimated that around 79.5 million people around the world were forced to leave their homes by the end of 2019, of which around 25 million were refugees. If you consider for example countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where it is estimated that 200 people have been killed since January 2021 by the militia force called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), these statistics do not come as a surprise.


We often hear the term refugee, but we have little knowledge of what it means to be a refugee and what the legal consequences are thereof. The Refugees Act 130 of 1998 (“Refugees Act”) regulates how matters regarding refugees are dealt with in South Africa.


There are very specific grounds listed in section 3 of the Refugees Act in terms of which a person can be granted refugee status which include when a person is fearful of being persecuted on the basis of their race, tribe, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership to a social group; when a person is compelled to leave their country due to a disturbance of the public order or if a person is the dependent of a person who is applying for refugee status.


Whilst a person is seeking refugee status they are referred to as asylum seeker as they do not yet have refugee status, whereas once a person has been granted refugee status, they are then referred to as a refugee or alternatively, they have been granted asylum. The Department of Home Affairs is the relevant body to approach when a person wants to apply for asylum and certain specified steps need to be taken in order to apply to be granted asylum.


At Tuckers Attorneys, we assist our clients with their queries or concerns regarding refugee matters. Contact us at (011) 897 1900 or 076 777 1920 (afterhours) or email us at for all your immigration and emigration needs.


Article contributed by Anri Swanepoel of Tuckers Attorneys.