Protecting, promoting and advancing the rights and freedoms of migrants and refugees
To promote and strengthen the rights and integration of migrants and refugees in South Africa, through providing individual advice, publishing research, raising awareness, and advocating for legislative and policy reform and its proper implementation.
The Advocacy Team works on two mutually informing levels. Firstly, paralegal advice and practical assistance are provided to individual clients on a walk-in basis. Pertinent issues here include:
• access to documentation and the Department of Home Affairs immigration and asylum systems;
• access to public services such as education and healthcare;
• access to justice for victims of xenophobic violence, hate crimes, and other protection-related issues;
• assistance to unaccompanied and separated foreign minors; and
• advice and assistance with cases of detention and deportation.
Secondly, the Advocacy Team works to drive deeper systemic change in the South African society and immigration and asylum systems. The work is informed by and responsive to direct engagement with individuals and the particular problems that they experience. This work includes:
• commenting on draft legislation, policies and implementation, to government and international bodies;
• raising awareness through online communications, newsprint, and documentary making, among other things;
• providing trainings to government officials, civil society, citizens, and members of refugee and migrant communities;
• conducting and publishing research;
• engaging in strategic litigation; and
• finding durable solutions to specific issues, like the cessation of refugee status.
• To strengthen legal protections, address discrimination and assist with access to rights and services afforded by law, including access to labour, education and health.
• To promote transparency, accountability and efficiency in the immigration and asylum systems.
• To advance positive systemic change in South African society and immigration and asylum systems.
Children's Project
The Advocacy Team provides services to children who enter South Africa alone (‘unaccompanied children’) or with adults who are not their parents (‘separated children’). Like adults, children require a valid visa or refugee permit to regularise their stay in South Africa.The Advocacy Team assists in explaining and advising children and their caregivers in terms of identifying pathways to documentation in South Africa and does appropriate referrals where necessary. Our Advocacy Officers offer support to social workers and caregivers by assisting them in:
• understanding the rights of foreign children as stipulated by the Constitution and the Children’s Act;
• beginning the process of family tracing as soon as possible;
• pursuing available pathways to legal stay; and
• accessing the services of the Department of Home Affairs.
The reality is that many unaccompanied and separated children are unable to access legal pathways to regularise their stay. In response, the Advocacy Team conducts research and high-level advocacy with the aim of broadening access to documentation options for unaccompanied and separated children.
Detention and Deportation
The detention of foreign nationals for deportation remains the pre-eminent tool of immigration enforcement in South Africa. This process has severe consequences for the individual and therefore must adhere to procedural and substantive legal protections as established by the Constitution, Refugees Act and the Immigration Act. The Advocacy Team provides assistance to individuals unlawfully detained, by communicating with the authorities and referring cases to legal partners. The Advocacy Team also facilitates workshops to inform migrants and refugees of their rights and responsibilities in relation to detention and deportation procedures. These workshops are designed to empower individuals with knowledge about the legal process to better realise their rights.
Angolan Cessation
During the 1990s, thousands of Angolans sought refuge in the new democracy of South Africa, escaping a devastating civil war that continued for decades.
In 2012, the UNHCR recommended that, due to the developments in Angola, states could cease refugee status for Angolans. The legal process for cessation involves the withdrawal of refugee status through the issuance of notification to the individual by the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs, to which he or she may respond.
Between May and August 2013 the South African government withdrew the refugee status of Angolan refugees. Angolan refugees were provided with three options: voluntary repatriation to Angola, applying for continued refugee status, or applying for a temporary residency visa to remain in South Africa. The large majority of affected Angolans applied for the temporary residency visa. This came to be known as the ACP permit: a two-year work, study or business permit which was issued under relaxed immigration rules. According to the Department of Home Affairs, 2,049 ACP permits were issued in total.
In 2014, it became apparent that ACP permit holders could not extend their permits, due the strict Regulations of the Immigration Act. Scalabrini Centre began discussions with the Department of Home Affairs to advocate for continued legal stay of ACP permit holders, under relaxed immigration conditions, based on their strong ties to South Africa.
In October 2015 the Advocacy Team submitted an application for permanent residency made on behalf of the entire category of ACP-permit holders. The Department of Hope Affairs did not respond. Scalabrini Centre approached the Western Cape High Court to request that a decision be made on the application. An out of court settlement was agreed upon, which led to the Minister of Home Affairs making a decision that ACP permit holders could apply for permanent residency on special grounds.
In February 2017, Scalabrini Centre handed in 160 lever-arch files to the Department of Home Affairs, documenting the lives of 1,757 applicants. In July 2017 The Minister of Home Affairs decided to grant conditional rights of permanent residency to the entire class, for a period of four years. Conditions included that applicants must submit photos, biometrics, police clearance certificates and supporting documents via VFS.
By February 2018 we hope to see ACP permit holders once again having legal stay in South Africa.
Somali Outreach
This project began in 2014 and involves weekly trips by the Advocacy Team to the Bellville office of the Somali Association of South Africa to assist individuals on a walk-in basis. This project was launched in response to the many challenges facing the refugee community in Bellville, as brought to our attention by the Somali Association of South Africa. The Bellville suburb, located roughly 25 kilometres east of the city centre, hosts a large community of Somali nationals as well as refugees from other countries such as Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Advocacy Team and the Somali Association of South Africa have assisted over 700 individual clients. Besides individual case management, the Advocacy Team have held meetings with police and healthcare providers to discuss and address issues affecting refugees in the area.