On the 27th of May 2022, Africa Unite in collaboration with the University of Cape Town (UCT) Refugee Rights Units (RRU) hosted the 2nd Immigration Orientation session at the Africa Unite Head office at 6 Spin Street in the Cape Town CBD. This session is the 2nd in a series of talks and workshops orienting migrant and refugee communities in South Africa. This program seeks to alleviate the tension and conflict arising between migrant communities, law enforcement agencies, and locals.
The session was dubbed “Know your Rights” and attracted 18 participants (9 females, 7 males, and 2 non-binary) from various African countries (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Rwanda respectively). The session covered Refugee Children’s Rights presented by Olivia McCarthy, a Candidate Attorney for the UCT RRU. The session started with a brief set of definitions and questions for the participants on the differences 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, 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 explain that all children born in South Africa must be registered within 30 days of the birth otherwise, the child will be considered late registration. The facilitator also pointed out that even though refugee and asylum seeker children born in South Africa will be afforded basic education and healthcare under the constitution, they are not automatically citizens in South Africa but are still eligible to apply for citizenship.
The facilitator also mentioned that fathers of children will now be allowed to register their children if the parents are separated, and a paternity test will be required by the State to prove parentage. It was stressed that parents who do not register their children in South Africa are setting their children back considerably, since it will cause major obstacles when children need to be taken to healthcare facilities, registered for school, and often, be declared stateless which means that:
• A child is not considered South African
• Has no ties except parentage to the country/s of origin of their parents;
• No official documentation on any national database confirming the identity of the child
A case study was handed out to the participants of the Minister of Home Affairs and Another vs Vali and others. Other case studies of requests for students to access birth certificate applications and access to school registrations, assist the participants in understanding case precedents and what they can challenge in court.
The participants asked a variety of questions about school registration and the ability of refugee and asylum seeker children to apply for citizenship. Another pertinent question was if migrants and refugees were liable to pay for state healthcare. The most common answer was that a refugee that has attained permanent residence in South Africa for 10 years will be eligible for South African Citizenship. All South African Government institutions operate on a Pay as you Earn system, making social services free for unemployed individuals and minimum payments for those in lower-earning brackets.
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 as well as to host a session on access to Higher education and employment opportunities. Furthermore, the session also provided greater clarity on the importance of the registration of births and documentation. This is the 2nd 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.