CBRMC Mid Year Activities Report for 2011
Since october 1999, the Coordinating Body of Refugee Communities (CBRC) has closely and daily worked with refugees and other migrants in the Republic of South Africa. In this endeavour, it has occured that migrants and more specifically forced migrants face hassles in their lives in the host country due to many factors including their own ignorance of the rights conferred to them by the Refugee Act, the Immigration Act and constitution and also, poor or little service delivered to them. This mid term report aims at highlighting the plights of refugees and other migrants as they have unfolded for the first semester of this year 2011.
This report is made of the following:
1. Refugee Reception Offices (RRO)
5. Other Refugee Service Providers
6. Capacity Building (Refugee and Migrant Rights Campaigns and Training of trainers)
1. Issues pertaining to Refugee Reception Offices
These offices are meant to provide aylum seekers and Refugees with relevant Identification Documents that legalise their stay in the country. Regardless the provision of these documents, access to other services in the public and private sectors remains an acute challenge due to the very nature of these (refugee) documents. Besides the fact that some people label them (documents) as being discriminatory, it is worth noting that the issuance of the ID booklet upon application has never been within the legal timeframe. More disturbing is the fact that no reparation is offered while late renewal of documents is fined.
In the course of this semester, some members of our constituency have reported and documented incidences of those delays. The immediate consequence is that without a valid document one cannot access any other services, thus being forced into vulnerability as they are unabled to enjoy their entitlements.
Another type of complaints has focused on rejected asylum applications. Without any speculations, clients were advised to request assistance from legal experts should they wish to logde appeals against the RSDO decisions.
Our constituency flocked to our offices to inquire about the relocation of the Johannesburg Refugee Reception Office to Pretoria, about 60 km far from Johannesburg. This relocation has raised various concerns among which they mentioned the possibility of loss of or missing files; reimbursement of extra transport costs in regard to the meager income of refugee household. In this regard, CBRC was mandated to join forces with other stakeholders to ensure the reopening of the RRO in Johannesburg at all costs.
Assistance for Family reunification has been sought for. One case concerns a lady who has come to join her husband and for the past six months or so, she has not yet been able to get into the husband’s file to allow her to get a legal document. Her husband is already a recognised refugee with a refugee status. We wonder why this is a problem in the first place for there is a provision for such cases. We were also approached by another person whose two children are in Zambia. The guardian (mother) passed away sometimes ago. He would like us to assist with the family reunification. The father (applicant) is a recognised refugee. We have started talks with SA Red Cross who have promised to come back to us. We have to do a follow up on this matter.
We also received a request for assistance from a PR applicant. In fact he is unable to apply for his Permanent Residence because the copy of his first Refugee status is missing. He approached the RRO for that matter only to be informed that not only this document was missing but also that his entire file was fragmentary. This case has been referred to legal practitioners to assist. We are still making a follow up on that case.
There is a case of the main applicant whose refugee status has expired and who was denied renewal due to missing of the RSDO decision letter that granted him the status. Funny enough, two of his dependents got their status renewed. This gentleman is denied duly due services for a missing document in the RRO file. We are doing a follow up on this case to ensure this whole family is restated in their rights.
Last but not the least, most refugees visiting the Showground RRO have complained about extreme cold weather in waiting rooms as they (clients) are not allowed to bask in the sun, if any, due to maintaing order at the premises. The request is that the hall should be heated. Clients have also reported instances of being shouted at and or pushed away by security officials in the hall. Some clients have also reported being turned down by security Officers at the main gate. We wonder whether these security officers are also filling the Information Desk position.
Contrary to previous years, CBRMC has encouraged refugee and migrant parents to register their children into public schools in their neighbourhood. Most parents responded positively to this call. However, we (CBRMC) had to liaise with school managers and GDE registration directorate to ensure placement of all children into schools. Our last placement into schools was done in May this year for 12 children at primary level.
Challenges encountered are sometimes due to parents ingnorance of the south african schools Act, hence school managers take advantage of them abusing the children’s rights. We were reported denial of registration because the official requested a study visa; while others were verbaly told that the school was full without a notice from the District declaring that given school to be full. Most parents were not informed about the possibility of applying for school fees exemption. In the contrary they were lured into signing a form binding them to the payment of school fees. This has already created a problem to parents whose applications for school fees exemptions were rejected. We are currently examining the possibility to report the matter to the GDE for arbitration as our mediation has been unsuccessful for this one case.
On the other hand, service providers in education who receive funding – little funding (as they say) cannot meet the demand. However, regardless our appeal to allocate funding to schools that register most refugee and migrant children as a token of appreciation, the fundings are used to cater for some learners leaving the vast majority unattended to while studying in the same schools. This creates discrimination among these children; while these schools managers are given grounds to think that every refugee child should be equally sponsored.
Our office backed as well the request to the government to compensate schools that endure financial sacrifice when they grant school fee exemptions. We were informed that the requested was being attended to and that the parliament needed to deliberate on the matter to pass a law so that these expenses should be included in official budget line. There is need to know how far this might have gone to allow a proper follow up.
Besides the above, parents have requested for assistance in regard to school uniform and shoes, stationery and transport. We have advised them to request assistance from traditional service providers. It would add value to our education service/assistance if we can be able to provide for some of these items.
There is also huge demands of sponsorship for tertiary education.
3. Housing / Rental
A number of people have requested advice about their irregular practices by landlords or estate agencies. In the light of the Housing Bill/Act, we were able to uncover a number of intrigue and negotiate an amicable settlement of the matter opposing members of our constituency and their lanlords. However, we have sometimes witnessed – powerlessly - instances of abuse perpetrated aginst tenants by landlords. Most legal service providers declined to assist with no apparent reason. We have also witnessed denial of assistance by police who refused to open a case for violation of privacy and perjury by landlord. We are also aware of an estate agency whose lawyer has given a tenant a seven (7) day notice to vacate the premises, promising to get an eviction court order. Unfortunately, the lanlord has embarked on an intimidation campaign including cutting off electricity supply for prepaid meter (in winter) to evict the tenant. Should the tenants wish to pursue the matter further, we will accompany them to relevant services to claim reparation.
It is equally important to mention that one other case (more than 50,000.00 arrears of payment) was pardoned by the landlord after it was proven that the tenant was robbed of the rental by his son who was not paying the whole money into the landlord’s account. The tenant is given up to the end of August to vacate the premises. This is, indeed, “ubuntu”!
Access to banking services ddepends on each bank and each branch. The banking regulations are not equally interpreted and implemented in all the banks. The clients who sought assistance from us to help them open up bank accounts were advised to use those banks and branches we know that they deliver those services to all who fulfill the basic requirements/conditions.
5. Traditional (other) Refugee Service Providers
Migrants and mostly refugees are very dissatisfied with the services and the quality of services they receive. Some go as far as labelling some among the workers as being either racists or xenophobic or simply incompetent. They complain about being despised, humiliated; briefly, they are not treated in dignifying manners. Humanitarian personnel do not care. Most shocking is the denial of assistance to bury an asylum seeker after the family produced all required document. Hammering the RROs is good but it would be better for these Humanitarian Organisations to clean their own backward first. In this regard, a suggestion to have humanitarian workers workshopped on how to render services to refugees would be timely.
Besides traditional service providers, other chapter 9 institutions are open to provide assistance where necessary. The Independant Complaints Directorate has promised to work closely with our constituency to curb abuses perpetrated by members of the SAPS against migrants. The ICD official who informed us regretted the fact that many cases are not finalised because many complainants who become state witnesses withdraw the cases or simply do not pitch up at the court to give their testimonies to allow the prosecution of the offenders.
6. Refugee and Migrant Rights Campaigns and ToT’s
Aware of the fact that most refugees and migrants in general do not read to inform their actions, and in regard to alleged abuses perpetrated against them, and being concerned about sharing information, CBRMC has embaked on a series of refugee and migrant rights awareness campaigns. The aim of these campaigns was to inform them about their obligations and their rights. This is also in line with community empowerment for self action. The whole campaign evolved around the slogan “don’t be a victim, know your rights; be a good citizen, know your obligations”. From the feedback that we are still receiving, the campaigns have been a success and there is demand for more of such information sharing sessions.
To accompany the Rights education, we have also provided two (2) trainings for Trainers who are also Paralegals to further the Rights education in communities. Paralegals are able analyse situations or incidents and advise the clients consequently. The trainee Trainers accompany clients where they are referred to and interpret for the client to articulate the issues raised for an unambiguous understanding of the complaint/s for a speedy assistance.
Living in the environment that once experienced xenophobic violence, CBRMC secured Basic PACT- Enabler’s workshop to capacitate members of the migrant communities to become peace agents in the local communities where they are living. The same training was offered to the Balfour local and migrant communities in the aftermath of attacks against the latter. To date, both communities are living harmonously with a sense of all belonging to the same human local community.
First and foremost, in the aftermath of the Rights education campaigns and the requests for information and advice, it is imperative that CBRMC officially sets up an information and advice desk to meet the demands and to curb the expectations of the members of our communities. This is vital. Our people get sometimes into trouble only because they are unable to seek advice because no such services are available.
Second, the relocation of the Johannesburg refugee reception Office to Pretoria has prejudiced members of our communities. There are complaints about costly transportation fees (R60) sixty rand per person with risks of accidents occurring on the road due to the long distance to cover – about one hundred and twenty kilometres for a return trip. Though the Batho pele principle, clients should be at the heart of the service; therefore bringing services closer to the people. Our constituency has expressed wishes for the reopening of another RRO in Johannesburg, which harbours the biggest number of asylum seekers and refugees.
Third and last but not the least, members of our constituency have raised concerns about access to other government related services such as social grants, disability grants and so on. There is also concern about accessing education grants and/or other loans.
Report compiled by CBRC secretariat