On the 26th of April 2022, Africa Unite in collaboration with the University of Cape Town (UCT) Refugee Rights Units (RRU) hosted the first Immigration Orientation session of 2022 at the Tshisimani Centre for activists in Mowbray outside the Cape Town city limits. This session is the first in a series of talks and workshops orienting migrant and refugee communities in South Africa. This program seeks to alleviate the tension and conflicts arising between migrant communities, law enforcement agencies and locals.
The session was dubbed “Know your Rights” and attracted 19 participants (14 females and 5 males) from various African countries (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe & Rwanda respectively). The session was divided into two sections covering the South African Refugee Act, presented by Sally Gandar, Head of Strategic Litigation & Advocacy and Gender-Based Violence – Femicide and Protection Orders presented by Niall Marinus a Candidate Attorney for the UCT RRU.
The first part of the session started with a brief history of the refugee Act which was drafted in 1998 and came into practice in 2000 as well as distinctions and definitions between Refugees and Asylum Seekers which were defined according to section 3 of the Refugee act as;
- Asylum seekers: Someone escaping persecution or danger in their country of origin who wants to seek protection in a new country, and for the host government to give them this protection. Still in the process of temporary documentation.
- Refugee: Someone escaping persecution or danger in their country of origin and is seeking protection in a host country. The protection documentation process has been finalized, and applicants now have the full protection of the State as well as full documentation to reside in, seek employment and access education and healthcare in the host country.
These distinctions became important when the legal terminology began to be unpacked explaining the protections and freedoms afforded to Asylum seekers and Refugees. The facilitator then proceeded to run a practical exercise (forming human toll gates and borders, something the participants did not expect) with the participants to demonstrate the various processes people go through when entering the country and the avenues available to them should their application for refugee status be declined.
The facilitator also covered the principle of non-refoulment, which means people could not be deported if granted certain protections or under certain circumstances (civil war, political persecution or Natural disaster). It was however noted that even though it is a violation of international criminal law to deport people in these conditions, it was still being practiced in many ports of entry.
The group was also informed on the process of application appeals if their applications are denied. Currently, you are given 30 days to leave the country if your application is declined, alternatively, you are allowed to appeal this decision, it should take approximately 6 months for the appeal process, however, due to a massive backlog and maladministration, this has caused even further delays to the appeal process. This was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which saw the closure of the Refugee Reception offices nationally (with the exception of Cape Town which was closed since 2012), this meant that many refugees and asylum seekers residing in South Africa lived in constant fear of detention and deportation due to expired documentation. With no viable response from the Department of Home Affairs, concerted effort and pressure from various civil society organizations saw blanket extensions granted to refugees and asylum seekers whose documents had expired during the national lockdown, this was then extended with the launch of online permit renewal systems. In March 2022, the Department of Home Affairs announced additional services from 3 May 2022:
• Appointment system for new applicants
• Family joining
• Appointment system for those with documents expired prior to Feb 2020
Part 2: GBV-F & Protection orders
The section was kicked off by asking the participants what they understood about Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBV-F) to be as well as what they understood about protection orders.
This section of the session saw a greater level of engagement from the younger participants, engaging in their experiences with GBV-F. The facilitator remarked that even though GBV-F was generally spoken of in the context of violence against women, it also included violence and abuse against men and boys which saw a larger sense of engagement from the male participants.
The facilitator expanded the definition of abuse to include emotional, mental and financial abuse which were more subversive and subtle forms of abuse but generally preceded physical acts of violence, it was stated that GBV-F;
• Can affect anyone
• No single face of GBV
• Men and boys can also experience GBV
Hereafter, the participants began to share their sensitive stories and experiences of dealing with law enforcement and the legal system when experiencing different forms of abuse, it was also noted that many males feel as if they will become ostracized by male law enforcement if they report being abused and that this issue becomes a societal problem and should be a topic frequently and openly discussed.
The facilitator then shared the various steps when becoming involved or falling victim to GBV-F or abuse.
• First step: you need to report any incident of GBV-F or abuse to law enforcement agents
• Second step: speak to someone you trust
• Third step: contact psychosocial support structures to assist
Below is a list of spaces to seek assistance with GBV-F:
• Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town
• Rape Crisis
• Social workers
• Adonis Musati projects
The facilitator then continued to explain what protection orders are and how to seek and apply for a protection order.
Protection orders: Where a court can help you to have protection from any form of abuse be it physical, or verbal, then prevent the re-occurrence of domestic violence. State what the perpetrator should not do.
To get such an act, it’s possible to go to the nearest police station and then to your nearest magistrate’s court.
The police must open a criminal case, and at the same time, issue an interim protection order. It’s interim protection that can provide you directly security/safeness and protection.
• Application can be done at any time
• And this protection is finally recognized/finalized during a hearing in court
The participants noted that sessions such as the one hosted were of utmost importance especially considering the current sociopolitical climate regarding refugees and asylum seekers. It was requested that Africa Unite and the UCT RRU continue to advocate and conduct sessions such as the “Know your Rights” series to equip and empower migrant communities. Furthermore, the session also provided greater clarity on the role of the attorneys and what they are in their legal power to do.
This is the first part in a series of Immigration orientation sessions and the first in the “know your Rights” sub-series, Africa Unite will continue to host subsequent information sessions to bridge the knowledge and information gap between immigrants and locals.