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South Africa does not have 1 million asylum seekers waiting to be processed

This article is more than 7 years old

A report by the UK Guardian makes the oft-repeated claim that “South Africa has the highest number of pending asylum claims in the world, with more than a million people waiting to be processed”.

Despite this figure being regularly republished in local and international news media, both claims are wrong and are based on a superficial reading of United Nations refugee data.

Africa Check’s most recent fact-check on this topic established that the figure of a million “asylum claims” could be traced to a United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 2016 report on global trends in forced displacement, which was based on 2015 data.

But the UNHCR report also carried an additional note explaining that the high figure (more than double the 463,900 pending asylum claims listed for South Africa in 2014) was likely due to the South African legal framework for asylum applications having no provision for the withdrawal of asylum applications once lodged. This means asylum applications that were processed and either approved or rejected were not removed from the system after being finalised.

South Africa would only have over a million pending asylum applications if it left unresolved every single one lodged between 2006 and 2015. Data from South Africa’s department of home affairs showed that the country would have had, at most, 381,754 pending claims at the end of 2015.

What also needs to be kept in mind is that the number of unresolved asylum applications is not the same as having the highest number of applications.

In 2015, South Africa received 62,159 new asylum applications. During the same period, Germany reported receiving 1.1 million asylum seekers (although the actual number of processed applications was much lower).

Repeating bad information does not make the data true, no matter how many times it is repeated. - Nechama Brodie (16/01/2017)



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