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Placide – Returning to a life left behind with help from Welfare Programme

Placide’s journey has made a full circle. Sitting in her shop in Cape Town – where she makes clothes, eats and sleeps – she speaks of the life she has established here. Meanwhile, she is preparing to go back to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – a process that has been assisted by Scalabrini’s Welfare Programme. 

Memories of a life once known

Placide fled her home in DRC 11 years ago. Sitting in Brooklyn, Cape Town with her life’s possessions packed into suitcases behind her- ready to take back to DRC- Placide speaks of her journey to South Africa. 

DRC is still facing ongoing conflict, which has claimed over five million lives. Placide was a nurse working in an army hospital where she came face to face with brutality. “They were killing people. That’s why I ran away to South Africa. They were looking for me to arrest me because I said the truth.” 

“When I made 100 bags, I’d put them on my back and go straight to Muizenberg. I’d start on the road, selling one by one until Fishhoek or Simonstown, every Sunday. I walked, no train, no bus. I walked.”

Placide traveled from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi.  Then to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Johannesburg and finally Cape Town. “Cape Town was very hard for me. You had to go to Langa to apply for asylum. You must go during the day and sleep there until tomorrow…. It took me one year to get my asylum permit.” To add to the stress of documentation, Placide’s living situation was uncomfortable. “I was living with one of my friend’s sons, but he made it very difficult for me to stay with him. I was sleeping on the floor.” When Placide suffered from a stroke, her church helped her find a room of her own. She still struggles with her health to this day. 

Rebuilding a life in South Africa

A strong and persevering woman, Placide got money together to buy a sewing machine. “When I made 100 bags, I’d put them on my back and go straight to Muizenberg. I’d start on the road, selling one by one until Fishhoek or Simonstown, every Sunday. I walked, no train, no bus. I walked.” 

The Welfare Programme was Placide’s first point of contact, where she received social assistance. Scalabrini then approached her to run sewing workshops for Women’s Platform. This helped bring in a more steady, less strenuous income. 

“The biggest help from Scalabrini was meeting lots of people and getting work. I get more people and more customers coming to me. Then when they’re helping me like that, I opened my own small shop. When I opened my small shop here, I trained the Scalabrini ladies here.” 

“I am scared to go home –  it’s not peaceful. But I want to go… I have my house, I have my family. I miss them and they miss me. I am here alone, like I don’t have people. That can make me sick again.” 

Making the journey home

With regards to her health, getting help in South Africa has proved difficult. This was a major factor in her decision to go home. “I decided to go home because I my health is not good – my blood pressure is high and my heart is not beating nicely.” Without family nearby, Placide worries what would happen to her if she were to fall sick. With this in mind, Placide has decided to return to her family.  

The Welfare Programme was able to assist Placide with returning home. Going home does not come without reservations and fear. “I am scared to go home –  it’s not peaceful. But I want to go… I have my house, I have my family. I miss them and they miss me. I am here alone, like I don’t have people. That can make me sick again.” 

Arriving in DRC

Placide took off from the Cape Town International Airport on 25 November 2019. She arrived safely in DRC and was received by her family. She keeps in contact with the Welfare Team and says she has resettled happily in DRC.

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Quelani: I can see where I’m going – life after Women’s Platform

Quelani had to leave her family behind in Zimbabwe, but found herself a family in South Africa, which she credits the Women’s Platform for. 

Leaving home and losing family support

Zimbabwe was not in a good way after the elections in 2008; attempts at a  coalition government were not successful and atrocities were committed with impunity against opposition supporters. The economy was in dire straits and there were severe food shortages.  In December 2009, Quelani and her husband made the difficult decision to leave their family behind and come to South Africa. 

“When I first arrived in Cape Town, I fell into a depression because of the change of environment, health issues and missing my family. I went from having a big family to just my husband, it was something that I didn’t take very well. I am a family person.” Language barriers made integration difficult. “It was not very easy to meet people. When you are not South African and are in another land where you don’t speak the same language; understanding each other is very difficult.” 

“When I dropped out in Zimbabwe, I was so hurt. I couldn’t explain it and I couldn’t talk about it. I was seeing people being successful because they were going to school. Education is the key, but I couldn’t go to school.”

While still in Zimbabwe, Quelani was studying Travel and Tourism. She was forced to drop out because of the economy. “When I dropped out in Zimbabwe, I was so hurt. I couldn’t explain it and I couldn’t talk about it. I was seeing people being successful because they were going to school. Education is the key, but I couldn’t go to school. When I came here to South Africa, I thought it was going to be easy for me to go to college or university, but it was the opposite.” She started working for a guesthouse in Cape Town, trying to keep close to what she loved to do, but the job itself was not for her. This would eventually lead her to Scalabrini. 

Speaking the same language

Quelani found out about Scalabrini at church. She recalls that,  walking into the Scalabrini offices, she gained a kind of family. “When I first walked in here I felt at home, I felt like I belonged here. We all spoke the same language,  the language of love. We are all so united …The bitterness that I had and missing home, it started to disappear” 

After eight years of not being able to study, it was a pivotal moment when Quelani discovered she could continue learning and doing hospitality at Scalabrini. “I was trying to go to school…finally I could go and on top of that, they saw some leadership in me, that I can teach the other ladies. That was so powerful.” Another significant moment for Quelani was realising that she can be helpful in her own community in Cape Town – despite not being South African. 

Purpose and direction

“The biggest help from Scalabrini and Women’s Platform is knowing myself better and doing what I love. I love people. Knowing myself better was so helpful from my education side and my personal life too. There are many things that I am now putting into practise after Personal Development.”

“Back in Zimbabwe, I am a village girl. I thought I couldn’t do anything, life was always about looking up to men and they must do everything for us, but after I came here things changed. I see that women can do anything, even the things that men do. I can see where I am going.”

Quelani dreams of having her own catering company in the future.  She would also like to help teach and empower the women in her own community, not just at Scalabrini. “Most people from Atlantis find it difficult to reach Scalabrini, so I wish to have some days when I can teach women, so I can be empowering other women like me and show them that there are better things that they can do, other than staying at home.” Scalabrini has helped Quelani in regards with her self-esteem too. “Back in Zimbabwe, I am a village girl. I thought I couldn’t do anything, life was always about looking up to men and they must do everything for us, but after I came here things changed. I see that women can do anything, even the things that men do. I can see where I am going.”

Jenna Yousef: BASP volunteer

Jenna was looking for an internship where she would be able to engage and work directly with people. BASP turned out to be the perfect fit for her. Read more about her experience at Scalabrini below. 

“I heard really good things about Scalabrini before I even came here. It’s interesting because there really is no one stop shop with these services in the United States at all, so learning how it’s run and how it impacts the lives of so many people has been really cool. 

I am from Seattle and I studied international studies, law, economics and human rights. The pace in Cape Town is much more relaxed than in Seattle. Everything still gets done, but it’s not as intense. It’s been very refreshing. The mountains are the coolest thing for me and seeing them every day from literally every angle is great. 

“BASP has a great team. You know they love what they do and that makes it all the much better to be here.”

I am volunteering in BASP. From day to day I am mentoring students and helping them with projects, working on the curriculum and teaching. Personally for me, having come from just finishing a degree, it’s honestly so inspiring to see how hard people work with what they have. What the students have to learn was stuff that I struggled with and I was face to face with a professor a couple of times a week. There are little things that you don’t think about, but I am very privileged to be here and very privileged in general. 

It’s always amazing to see the growth of the students from when they first walk in, to a few weeks down the line. It sometimes gets frustrating when students don’t have access to what they need, but it’s not coming from Scalabrini’s side. 

I feel like I personally want to help every single person I see and I know you can’t, but I think if you can at least help one person and make their world or their day a little bit better, it’s something. Even if we can’t offer the services or the help that a specific person needs, being empathetic and just listening is a good first step. Leave people better than you found them. 

I’ve definitely realised that I want to do something like working in a non-profit or government with a human rights aspect. Personally, I think being here has helped me become a more patient human being and it’s helped me find solutions to problems more efficiently. Many things pop up and you just have to work through them. BASP has a great team. You know they love what they do and that makes it all the much better to be here.”

Migration in South Africa: three issues and three solutions video

On 29 October 2019, The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town presented to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, along with several other organisations who had been invited to do so. This video outlines the services of Scalabrini – and looks at three issues and three solutions – in the migration sector in South Africa.

Watch the video below

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Three insights on migration: Prashana, our BASP internship coordinator

The Scalabrini team works with migrants and refugees everyday. With such deep expertise at hand, we take the opportunity to reflect on migration with them. This month we speak to Prashana, the internship coordinator at Scalabrini, who is passionate about empowering marginalised communities through education. 

  1. Integration is the process of mutual adaptation

“When someone migrates and changes their environment, they become open to integration.” In South Africa, when refugees and migrants arrive, they create a space for change as they must adapt. The host society must also adapt- which is not always an easy process.  

“Integration involves mutual respect and I think with regards to South Africa, we need to do a lot more work with South African people in respecting refugees and migrants, and respecting the change. Refugees and asylum seekers don’t choose to leave their homes, these people are fleeing horrific human rights violations and unspeakable circumstances to find opportunities for a better life.” 

Prashana speaks of the core values that unite people and the need to develop a sense of respect for these values. “There are many barriers in our country when it comes to integration. Those barriers are language, prejudices, stereotypes and conflict, which is caused by prejudices and stereotypes. Most South Africans experience these barriers, but non-South Africans have the added barrier of being from a different country and all that comes with that.”

South Africa is proud to enter its 25th year of democracy, and proud to hinge much of its success around celebrating the country’s diversity. Prashana sees migration as a key element of this diversity, and sees it tying directly into the future success of South Africa itself.

  1. Education is an important tool to be used in the upliftment of people

For Prashana, education is the key tool that lifts people out of marginalised positions in society.  She works for BASP, focusing on networking with businesses, organisations and social development organisations. 

Education is not only important for the upliftment of migrants, but for employers and South African citizens too. “Employers frequently struggle to understand asylum seekers and refugees’ documents and their right to work…It’s very difficult for nurses, doctors, dentists, who are coming from these African countries especially, to practise their work here. A lot of the time you are seeing your gardeners, bricklayers, waiters and waitresses, very entry level jobs, that are being done by non-South Africans who are extremely educated.”

  1. It is important to offer the same help that was offered to us during our fight for liberation. 

“South Africa and its people tend to lack empathy and knowledge with regards to who their allies were during the Apartheid era. Most of the victims of xenophobia right now are from those ally countries. During the South African fight for liberation, foreign countries assisted our political leaders, so why is it that we are not assisting those who were assisting us in those desperate times?”

One of the most challenging aspects of Prashana’s job is clients coming in with documentation that is not valid, often to no fault of their own, but the fault of South African policies, procedures and Home Affairs in general. They get stuck in the system. “We are here trying to help the most vulnerable, when we are unable to help them because of something like that is becomes very difficult.”

“I think it is important to remember where we came from, remember the struggles that we went through during Apartheid. Remember those that helped us, now it’s our turn to give that help in return. If we want to have a world where everyone is helping each other and is supportive of each other, then we need to give that help. That would be the mindset shift that I would like to put forward. Remember who helped us.”

What is the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town?

What is the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, and what services does it offer? Find out more in our short video, which explores each program at the centre.

What is the Angolan Cessation?

Thousands of refugees fled from Angola to South Africa due to the civil wars. These refugees were typically granted refugee status in South Africa. In 2002, the Angolan conflict ended. In 2013, the South African government cancelled all Angolans’ refugee statuses, as Angola was considered a safe country. Most Angolan former refugees were provided with an Angolan passport and a temporary visa which expired in 2015. Between 2015 and 2018, this group of refugees were in a precarious legal state until, after a court case, they were granted the right to stay in South Africa until 2021. Their future remains unclear. This group of refugees is deeply integrated into South Africa and wishes to remain here. We recommend that the Minister of Home Affairs grant this specific category of former refugees permanent residency in South Africa.

The asylum system in South Africa: 5 problems and 5 solutions

The asylum system in South Africa is struggling. Whilst the numbers of asylum applications in South Africa are not higher than other receiving countries (for example, Uganda and Kenya receive many more asylum applications per year), it is common for asylum seekers to spend several years in the asylum system whilst awaiting an outcome on their applications. This is detrimental to both the asylum seeker and the South African state itself. Issues of resources, staff capacity and corruption continue to affect the asylum system negatively. Asylum seekers have limited locations in which they can make application to asylum, and are sometimes provided with an appointment to return and make application for asylum (which renders them undocumented in the interim). The opening of fully functional Refugee Reception Offices that are able and equipped to deal with asylum applicants is key to a functioning asylum system. Further measures, such as extended asylum seeker permits for longer periods of time, would alleviate the pressure and allow officials to concentrate their time on substantial matters such as RSDO decisions.

Administrative bottlenecks in the asylum system are creating problems for the South African state and the asylum seekers themselves. The Refugee Appeal Board, in particular, suffers from a large backlog. Quality decisions made by the Refugee Status Determination Officers, and a Refugee Appeal Board backlog project, including group decisions, are needed to allow the asylum system to flow and ensure fair and speedy decisions on asylum applications.

The improved implementation of the Refugees Act can result in a functioning asylum system. ‘Asylum processing centres’ on the northern borders of South Africa – as envisaged in the White Paper on International Migration – are not required, nor are they they solution.

How does the asylum system work in South Africa?

Watch our 40-second video to understand how applying for refugee status in South Africa works.

In South Africa, applications for asylum are lodged at a Refugee Reception Office, which is run by the Department of Home Affairs. Asylum-seekers are interviewed by Refugee Status Determination Officers (RSDO) which make a decision on the asylum claim. This decision can be to grant refugee status, or to reject the asylum claim. There are different ‘types’ of rejection – a manifestly unfounded rejection is automatically reviewed by the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs. An unfounded rejection can be reviewed in the Refugee Appeal Board.

Find out more about the difficulties faced in the South African asylum system, and suggestions to change it, in our video ‘The asylum system in South Africa: 5 problems and 5 solutions’.

Foreign children in South Africa: 3 problems and 3 solutions

Non-South African children in South Africa often face difficulties in accessing documentation. This is not in the interests of the child – nor the South African state itself. Children born in South Africa to one or more foreign parents risk not having a birth certificate issued to them – despite the obligation on the South African government to do so. Regulations around birth registration in South Africa require parents to show a valid visa or permit in order to register the birth of their child. Remaining on a valid permit – considering the difficulties faced in the asylum system and the strict requirements of the immigration system – is not as simple as it might seem. We recommend that the Regulations to the Births and Deaths Registration Act be amended to ensure that all children born within South African borders – regardless of their parents' nationality – are given due access to their right to name and nationality in the form of a birth certificate.

Children fleeing to South Africa due to war or conflict in their home countries can face difficulties in accessing the asylum system. We recommend that fully functional Refugee Reception Offices, with adequate resources and staff capacity, to ensure unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are able to make application to asylum in line with the relevant provisions of the Refugees Act.

Children migrating to South Africa for non-refugee reasons (migrant children) face great difficulties in accessing documentation, and are forced into an undocumented state. We recommend that a visa, with accessible and realistic requirements, is developed for migrant children in South Africa. This is in the interests of the child, and the South African state itself.