AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL SA IN THE FIELD: RESEARCH ON REFUGEES AND ASYLUM-SEEKERS

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL SA IN THE FIELD: RESEARCH ON REFUGEES AND ASYLUM-SEEKERS

In May, Amnesty International South Africa (AISA) headed into the field to conduct research on the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa.

The purpose of our research is to document the lived experiences of refugees and asylum-seekers
trying to attain refugee status in South Africa. The research focuses on the effects of the unlawful closure of three of the six urban Refugee Reception Office (RROs) in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth (PE) and Johannesburg.

Refugees and asylum seekers wait outside the Refugee Reception Centre in Cape Town, May 2018. © Amnesty International

Refugees and asylum seekers wait outside the Refugee Reception Centre in Cape Town, May 2018. © Amnesty International

The closures mean that asylum-seekers have to travel long distances, from Cape Town and PE to the
remaining RROs in Pretoria, Durban or Musina, to renew their asylum-seeker permits. Our visits to Cape Town and PE were enlightening, worrying, disheartening, humbling and at times a little overwhelming.

We spoke to asylum-seekers in groups and one-on-one to hear their stories and experiences of how the asylum-seeker management system affects their lives day-to-day and over the long-term. While there were some differences in our findings per location, there were many similarities in experiences as the result of the RRO closures – from access and keeping documentation valid, to very long distances traveled for very short-term renewals, and a sense of real desperation for those seeking refugee status. Many of those interviewed had been in the system for more than seven years and are quite literally living in limbo.

Many refugees and asylum-seekers generously invited us into the homes to assess their lived
experiences. We found that inconsistencies in assigning asylum status have even resulted in family
members having completely different statuses.

For example, a Somali mother had successfully obtained ID numbers for herself and four of her children, whereas her fifth newborn baby has a birth certificate but no ID number.

Her baby and many other stateless children have difficulty accessing basic services, such as primary education. Groups expressed deep frustration at the lack of access to documentation in Cape Town specifically. Both men and women of differing nationalities agreed that the reopening of the Cape Town RRO is of paramount importance and would help alleviate the devastating financial and logistical effects that incur as a result of having
to travel vast distances frequently to renew their permits. The research was an invaluable opportunity to document the lived experiences refugees and asylum-seekers face in South Africa as a result of the closure of Cape Town’s RRO, including the negative effects this has on employment, education, access to housing and protection.

A focus group meets to discuss the challenges faced by refugees and asylum-seekers, May 2018. © Amnesty International

A focus group meets to discuss the challenges faced by refugees and asylum-seekers,
May 2018. © Amnesty International

AISA’s fieldwork was assisted by the support of the Nelson Mandela University Refugee Rights Centre in PE and University of Cape Town (UCT) refugee rights clinic, who gave us access to their clients and groups who they work with to ensure the rights of asylum-seekers are upheld and protected. While the research is still ongoing and will be
released later this year after a public dialogue and a high-level seminar, AISA will campaign for the
reopening of fully functioning RROs in urban centers in accordance with court orders from 2012.
Keep a look out for the report and upcoming campaigns.

Susan Tolmay
Women’s Rights & Marginalised Groups Officer
Amnesty International South Africa

This article first appeared in LESEDI, a publication of Amnesty InternationalSouth Africa

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