On the 20 – 22 of September 2022, Human Rights Project Development Officer, Lelethu Nogwavu attended the Universal Periodic Review Pre-Sessions in Sandton, Johannesburg. Approximately 30 other Civil Society Organisations attended and presented at the workshop. The main purpose of the event was to provide National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI’s) and Civil society organizations with an international platform through which they can inform the representatives of the recommended States about human rights situation in the State Under Review (SuR) before the UPR. Secondly, the event was to offer an opportunity for permanent missions to gather first-hand information on the human rights situation in the countries under review. As a result, the pre-sessions ensure that the recommendations made during UPR WG accurately reflect the reality of the SuR.
Africa Unite is one of the Civil Society Organisations that were invited to meet the representative of the recommended States about the Human Rights situation in terms of the work that we do as an organisation. Africa Unite had also submitted a report to the UPR before this hence we were invited. We were also required to make a factsheet for submission after the event. This factsheet is meant to go the State representatives.
Several issues were discussed in the sessions including issues of Vulnerable groups (Disability) GBV-F (The right to Land and Food), Sexual and reproductive rights. Xenophobia and Migrant Rights (Economic and Social Rights). Xenophobia and Migrant rights (Migration, Detention and Statelessness). GBV-F (Forced Sterilisation and Torture). Access to Justice for Women and Climate change. Although Africa Unite’s work deals with most of the issues discussed, the submission/report AU made at the UPR was on Xenophobia and Migrant rights (specifically on Refugees and Asylum Seekers). During the event, AU partnered with the Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the Dullah Ouma Institute (DOI) to come up with solutions and ideas and discuss in-depth, the work each organization does in relation to the topic/issue. The organisations also discussed how they can work together as a coalition to bring about effective solutions.
The workshop was a good opportunity to hear from other stakeholders, especially those working in a similar field as Africa Unite. It also gave an opportunity for us who are youth-focused and working on grassroot to give a sense of how things are on the ground and to also be exposed to the litigation and research aspect of Migrant and Refugee work. Further, it highlighted the importance of grassroot work and advocacy and how we as Africa Unite can utilise institutions like the UPR to influence and change policies at an international level while also working on the ground with people and being their voice. This is because the UPR gives a platform for civil society to influence internationally. It also brings together different organisations to work together and make an impact using their different strengths as organisations.
Africa Unite will submit a factsheet on the issue of Access to tertiary Education for young Refugee students who have completed matric. This has become a problem in South Africa as young refugee students are required to pay their school fees upfront without any government assistance. This is one of the plights of refugee tertiary students because most of them already come from financially insecure households. Most of them end up not getting access to tertiary institutions as a result of this. This has a ripple effect because there is also a huge problem of unemployment in the country and so when these young people do not get access to tertiary education. They cannot find work, meaning they have to stay at home and continue being victims of poverty. This is especially because education helps refugees to become self-sufficient, enabling them to learn about themselves and the world around them, as they strive to rebuild their lives and communities.
By submitting this fact sheet, Africa Unite is using this platform to reach out to the international community and to try and find solutions to this problem. In doing this, Africa Unite in collaboration with other NGO’s hopes to bring to light this very important issue and to also help change policies and advocate for an international financial aid scheme for refugee students.