UCT Refugee Rights Clinic Hosts Cape Town Programme on International Refugee Law

05 Aug 2015
05 Aug 2015

Resounding success was the sentiment expressed by many at the end to the first ever African Leaders and Experts conference on International Refugee Law. From the 18th to the 21st of November 2014 the University of Cape Town Refugee Rights Unit in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had the pleasure to host the Cape Town Programme on International Refugee Law. The training and dialogue involved senior officials from 12 SADC Countries and leading experts on Refugee Law and senior officials from the South African Department of Home Affairs. Over the course of the week of the cutting edge areas of refugee law were addressing including the international legal framework for refugees' protection, an overview of the 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum and refugee policies in southern Africa; the right to seek and obtain asylum under the African human rights system; refugee status determination in southern Africa; and strengthening refugee protection. The conference was opened by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Ms Fatima Chohan who gave the key note address introduced by Fatima Khan the Director of the Refugee Rights Unit, Professor Hugh Corder the former Dean of Law and UNHCR's Regional Representative for Southern Africa, Clementine Nkweta-Salami.

In introduction to the Deputy Minister Professor Hugh Corder spoke to the importance of the event in the Oliver Thambo Moot Court a venue put together with material only from Africa including the tables, tapestries painting and gavel. Professor Corder reflected with joy about the rich tradition of receiving and assisting Refugees and Asylum Seekers at the UCT Refugee Rights Clinic and hearing the sound of babies and children as they come with their parents for legal assistance. Refugees have been recognised by our Courts as a particularly vulnerable group in society who are protected by the South African Bill of Rights and that the Law Faculty has and continues to support the important work done at the Refugee Rights Unit.

As quoted in the Cape Times Ms Fatima Khan, Director of the Refugee Rights Unit at the University of Cape Town said "We are excited to be partnering with UNHCR on this programme and to have such distinguished African scholars and experts present to discuss this important issue of our time with government officials who can make an impact on improving the rights of refugees," Ms Khan went on to state that "Refugees are an extremely vulnerable group and the main aim of the conference is to share our knowledge with government officials around Africa, consider best practice and engage on challenges faced with implementing laws in the various countries represented."

In the UNHCR and UCT Refugee Rights Unit in their opening press release said 'UNHCR and the University of Cape Town? launched the inaugural session of the Cape Town Programme in International Refugee Law. This Programme seeks to improve the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in Southern Africa by fostering constructive dialogue between policymakers, academics and civil society. Senior government officials from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe are attending the four day programme where they will be encouraged to explore the legal and policy changes required to bring the region closer to international standards of refugee protection.'