Visas, permits, residence
Refugees and asylum seekersLike other countries, South Africa is obliged to grant protection to refugees. Although it did not recognise refugees until 1993, it became a signatory to the UN and Organisation of African Unity conventions on refugees after its transition to democracy. The 1998 Refugees Act established the institutions and procedures to offer protection to those who are fleeing persecution and instability in their home countries.
What's the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee?The UN Convention defines a refugee as someone who has fled their home country and has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, tribe, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. This includes people who are forced to flee their country of origin as a result of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events that seriously disrupt public order. An asylum seeker is a person who is seeking recognition, while a refugee is someone whose application is still under consideration by the government.
How to apply for refugee statusA Refugee Act governing the admission of asylum seekers was passed in 1998, and became effective in 2000. A refugee can apply for permanent residence after five years of continuous residence since the date of asylum being granted. Only recognised refugees can apply for identity documents and an asylum application should be adjudicated within 180 days, including the appeal.
What institutions and organisations help refugees?
- Home Affairs
- The SA Human Rights Commission
- Southern African Migration Project
- Lawyers for Human Rights
- Paralegal Advice
- UN High Commission for Refugees
- UN High Commission for Refugees in SA
What are the main issues for refugees in South Africa?According to the UNHCR, of the 23 000 refugees recognised in 2002, many arrived via several asylum or transit countries. They came expecting to improve their lives drastically, but many end up disappointed when they fail to find jobs or access social services. Doctors, engineers and teachers have had to settle for menial jobs. While their children's access to primary school has improved, it is much harder at the secondary and tertiary levels. Unlike all other African countries, South Africa does not have any refugee camps. Asylum seekers and refugees live in urban regions and survive largely without assistance. If they need support, they approach local government structures. Thus capacity building among key professionals has become one of UNHCR's major objectives in South Africa. In some instances the increase in the number of refugees in the country has created tensions with South African citizens, many of whom have blamed escalating crime on illegal immigrants and refugees. Xenophobia has become a problem in some areas of the country.
What can I do if I've been treated badly?If any of your rights, as defined in the Bill of Rights, have been violated, you can file an online complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission (click on "complaints" in the top menu bar). Other programmes and institutions that can assist with xenophobia: UNHCR
Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material