volunteer cape town unite 20 06 19

Leo – UNITE volunteer

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Leo got the opportunity to work on his PhD in Cape Town. He has been living here for the past three years and has spent some of that time volunteering with UNITE. Read more about his time here below.

I grew up in the northern French Alps, near Switzerland, and lived on the countryside. My hometown had 800 inhabitants, so this environment is really different. Before moving here, I had been living in a big city in France for a bit so the transition was not too difficult.

I have been in Cape Town for three years now, so it’s really starting to feel like home. Being near the mountains reminds me a lot of home, actually, and I enjoy being able to do things like hiking. The only downside is that I don’t always like the superficial, plastic side of Cape Town, but that comes along with life in any big city. 

I ended up here because while I was doing my masters, I got a proposal to do a PhD in South Africa through a partnership between European and South African universities. It worked out and I got a scholarship to come here and work on my PhD. Originally, my area of focus was going to be about using sports as a tool to promote social cohesion. When I got here, I was put into contact with NGOs that focused more on migrant-related work, so my topic shifted to that. The field was fascinating, because that was when the refugee crisis was at its height. It’s been so cool to see how other countries deal with issues of migration and social cohesion.

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“I’ve learned a lot since coming here, like how to effectively lead a session, how to engage teenagers on complex issues, and how to explain these issues in a way they can understand. My PhD fieldwork has been heavily informed by this experience.”

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I studied sociology in university, and I’ve always been a very curious person, trying to make sense of the world. I think I got that from my mother. Sociology has taught me that everything is complex and layered, and through it I’ve learned to decode and try to understand the world better.

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Here at Scalabrini, I’m a UNITE volunteer. On a typical day, I come to Scalabrini and myself along with the other UNITE members go to a school and facilitate workshops. We cover three main topics: diversity, integration, and identity, and lead activities like debates or reflections to get the kids thinking critically about these issues. I’ve learned a lot since coming here, like how to effectively lead a session, how to engage teenagers on complex issues, and how to explain these issues in a way they can understand. My PhD fieldwork has been heavily informed by this experience.

My most memorable time here was during our UNITE camp last August. It was great to get to know the kids in a more casual setting and to bond with the other program leaders, being outside and doing fun team-building activities. Now that UNITE is finished for the year, I’m focusing on writing my thesis and hope to be done by the end of next year. My initial plan was to work for an international organization, but now I think I would like to carry on in the research field and possibly continue my work in the NGO setting, which I have really enjoyed. My advice to anyone coming to Scalabrini is to set concrete goals, reach them, and along the way to really invest in the culture and grow from it.”



PRESS RELEASE: Life-changing Court Order for refugees’ spouses and children handed down, day before World Refugee Day

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Today, the day before World Refugee Day, the Western Cape High Court has handed down a landmark Court Order that is set to radically improve the lives of thousands of asylum-seeking families across South Africa.

The Order, confirmed by the court following successful negotiations between the Department of Home Affairs and civil society, pertains to children and spouses of asylum seekers and refugees living in South Africa.

Wives, husbands, children and other dependents of asylum-seekers and refugees are able to document themselves in South Africa as 'dependents' of the principle asylum applicant in a process commonly known as 'family-joining'. This aspect of the Refugee Act – outlined at section 3(c) – means that refugee families can be documented together, ensuring their rights to family unity and dignity in South Africa. As refugees cannot return to their country due to conflict or persecution, maintaining a family unit that is documented together is an important part of building stability and ensuring proper refugee protection in South Africa.

However, many applicants had experienced barriers when trying to join family members in this way. Wives, husbands, children, and other dependents of asylum applicants and refugees have been left with no way to document themselves in South Africa. They have been forced into an undocumented state, placing them in a position that is vulnerable to exploitation, detention and arrest.

In reaction to this, civil society organisations Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town represented by the Refugee Rights Unit at UCT, and Advocate Suzanna Harvey, took the matter to court in 2016.

The order confirms a set of Standard Operating Procedures which have been agreed on between DHA and the applicants. As such, dependents are now able to apply to be documented as either through family joining or in om their own grounds, upon provision of certain documents, where possible, such as a marriage certificate or birth certificate – regardless of where the marriage or birth took place. Affidavits are to be submitted in the absense of such documents. This family joining is to be completed regardless of whether the dependents were included in the applicant's original asylum application or not. Should there be “serious doubts” about the validity of a parents' claim over their child, DHA can request a DNA test, which will then be assessed and possibly funded by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Administrative nuances aside, the ultimate success of this case is that asylum-seeking and refugee families can now fulfil their right to access documentation in South Africa. With documentation, these families no longer need to fear arrest and detention, can work legally, and can enrol their children in school without administrative barriers.

For more information on this case, contact Sally Gandar (Scalabrini Centre ) on sally@scalabrini.org.za / 0214656433 or 079 171 8558 and Popo Mfubu (UCT Refugee Right’s Unit) on popo.mfubu@uct.ac.za / 021 650 5581 or +27 (83) 799-6495