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S. African Court Restores Access to Bank Accounts by Refugees and Asylum Seekers

  • Tatenda Gumbo

South Africa's Financial Intelligence Center in May determined that residency permits held by asylum seekers and refugees could not be accepted as identification, leading banks to block access to accounts

A South African court has ordered the government to allow refugees and asylum seekers in Johannesburg and Pretoria to have access to their bank accounts. The decision came in response to an appeal by Lawyers for Human Rights and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa.

The order instructs banks to accept refugee and asylum-seeker documents as valid identification for purposes of accessing or setting up accounts.

The state’s Financial Intelligence Center in May determined that residency permits held by asylum seekers and refugees issued under the South African Refugee Act could not be accepted as identification, leading banks to block access to accounts and refuse new accounts to holders of such documents.

Attorney David Cote, coordinator of the Strategic Litigation Unit of the Lawyers for Human Rights, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Tatenda Gumbo that a settlement agreement was reached between the parties concerned and the Financial Intelligence Center policy will be amended in line with the decision.

In the settlement, a new FIC communication will explain to banks the use of permits and how to conduct verifications of their authenticity. The South African Department of Home Affairs will establish a verification process.

Cote said the policy the court struck down left refugees and asylum seekers in a vulnerable position.

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