Press Release: Scalabrini launches urgent litigation on Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant

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Press Release: Scalabrini launches urgent litigation seeking that the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant is open to asylum seekers and special dispensation permit holders.

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On 22nd May 2020, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, represented by Norton Rose Fulbright South  Africa Inc, launched urgent litigation in the Pretoria High Court regarding the exclusion of people on asylum-seeker or special-permit status from the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant, which is  only available for a 6 month period from May 2020.

The coronavirus knows no borders, and does not stop to ask for one’s nationality status. Citizens, and foreign nationals in South Africa have been seriously impacted by the National State of Disaster and lockdown. The Covid-19 SRD grant was announced as an emergency measure to try and provide relief for persons not receiving any other form of assistance or income. We are demanding that the SRD Grant be opened to asylum-seekers and special-permit holders, as it is irrational and unreasonable to exclude such persons from being able to apply for the grant solely on the bases of their nationality or immigration status.

The SRD grant

The special Covid-19 SRD grant aims to relieve the distress of those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is open to South African citizens, refugee status holders, and permanent residents only. The SRD grant will be R350 per month, and will be provided from May to October 2020. Under the current Regulations, persons on asylum-seeking status or special-permits cannot apply for the Covid-19 SRD grant.

The court case

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town has expressed, in various joint letters and comments, that an effective approach to combatting Covid-19 must be inclusive. Covid-19 affects people regardless of their nationality: South Africa’s response to it should be the same.

In our papers, we argue that the suffering experienced by asylum-seekers and special-permit holders is particularly severe because:

  • People on asylum-seeker visas that have expired under lockdown often face dismissal from work, no income, and frozen bank accounts;
  • Asylum-seekers and special-permit holders are excluded from the majority of governmental financial relief packages;
  • Many asylum-seekers and special-permit holders are excluded from governmental food parcels as a 13-digit ID number is required to register; and
  • UIF applications for non-South Africans are subject to specific delays, as confirmed by the Department of Labour.

At Scalabrini, we have seen a large surge in requests for help; 1,400 people called in the first eight weeks of lock-down requesting assistance with food, rental or electricity. Many of these are families with children who would usually have benefitted from school feeding programmes. We are asking the Court to confirm that persons with asylum seeker documentation, or special permits, whose documentation was valid at the time the National State of Disaster was declared, be eligible to apply for the Covid-19 SRD grant.

About Scalabrini

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town is an NGO based in Cape Town that provides specialised services for refugee, migrant and South African communities.

Press enquiries

Sally Gandar: Head of Advocacy & Legal Advisor, Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town

Laura Macfarlane: Associate, Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc

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Jonny Zients : All Rounder

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Being an All Rounder, Jonny has walked away with a variety of improved skills and a much deeper understanding of migration in the context of the African continent. Read more about his experience below.

“This is not my first time in South Africa. My mom is from Joburg, and lots of my extended family lives in Cape Town. I have been lucky to come here pretty routinely since I was young, so I have some familiarity with Cape Town. Six weeks in, I definitely feel like I want to live here more permanently at some point in my life. In Cape Town, I feel that I interact with people I don’t know much more frequently. There is a humor and friendliness that I much prefer to the kind of cold, stick-to-oneself attitude that I have gotten used to in DC.

My brother was an all rounder volunteer earlier this year and spoke so highly about his time at Scalabrini. I actually visited him while he was working and was immediately struck by Scalabrini’s breadth of services.  I also was intrigued by the unique opportunity to work with clients in a variety of settings. My previous non-profit volunteer/internship experiences have either been office settings that feel very removed from the beneficiaries of the organization or solely direct service like cooking meals in a food kitchen. Scalabrini feels so tuned into the day-to-day challenges and realities of the individuals and communities that they serve, while providing a sophisticated range of services. I initially noticed, and continue to appreciate, how Scalabrini never turns people away. There is always another service to refer people to, which I think speaks to Scalabrini’s holistic approach.

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“I was then able to craft my own experience by seeing what projects made sense to support.”

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The first ten days or so, it was a bit challenging to find my niche as an all-arounder, but I really appreciated that experience. Ultimately, I think it stretched me and allowed me to get to know each team more organically and what they are doing. I was then able to craft my own experience by seeing what projects made sense to support. Coming in each day and not knowing exactly what I am doing has kept me engaged and required a sense of initiative that I think constantly reminds me why I am here and what I feel passionate about. Being an all-arounder has been really cool: covering reception and moving from program to program has sharpened a variety of skills and given me a nuanced understanding of the full scope of Scalabrini’s mission.

Since joining the Scalabrini Centre, I have sharpened my administrative abilities, practicing making phone calls and entering data as well as learning how to use tools like Salesforce. I have also improved my researching techniques as I got more comfortable with navigating academic papers and UN databases when compiling my country report for SIHMA. Through digital literacy, I learned how to teach. Lastly, I have learned so much about migration — through research, interacting with clients, and speaking with Scalabrini team members, I have deepened my knowledge of the cultural context around inter-African migration and the barriers that asylum seekers and refugees face upon arrival in South Africa.

I start university in September, but have lots of things I want to do before then! I think my experience at Scalabrini has definitely given me a clearer idea of the work environments I will seek out and what I want to do for the rest of my gap year and life. “


Letter: Open the Social Relief of Distress Grant to all within South Africa – Scalabrini, LHR and CCL

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On 4th May 2020, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, together with Lawyers for Human Rights and the Centre for Child Law, wrote to the Department of Social Development, SASSA and the Presidency about the special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant.

This is a temporary, emergency grant for people who are in urgent material need during the covid-19 pandemic. It seems that this grant is open to SA citizens, people with refugee status, and permanent residents.

We welcome the roll-out of this much-needed grant, and other measures to increase certain SASSA grants at this time. However, in our letter, we urge DSD and SASSA to ensure that all persons are assisted and that there is equal treatment. We urgently asked that the Department of Social Development and SASSA to:

(1) Confirm that all children in South Africa – regardless of their nationality or documentation status in South Africa – are able to receive the emergency food parcels

(2) Explain why certain people (those with asylum seeker status or undocumented persons) are not able to apply to the social relief distress grant and,

(3) provide a detailed plan on how undocumented persons and asylum seekers will be assisted going forward.

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