Three insights on migration: Sarita

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The team at The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town (SCCT) works with migrants and refugees every day. With such deep expertise at hand, we take the opportunity to reflect on migration with them. This month we speak to Sarita, who volunteered with the Employment Access for four months. 

Sarita saw how harnessing the skills that migration brings could benefit South Africa – and Africa as a whole.  

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Sarita moved from South Africa to Germany in her teenage years. “Most of SCCT clients move away because of dangerous situations. When I moved to Germany, I had a much easier landing than a lot of our clients do.” Although her move to Germany was ‘comfortable’, her experience enabled her to empathise with people who have moved away from home. Sarita returned to South Africa to start her studies and began volunteering with Employment Access.  

Living in a different country can present barriers when it comes to seeking employment. Sarita noticed how these barriers were exacerbated for SCCT clients during the time of Covid-19. “Just applying for jobs is difficult. Many clients can’t apply for jobs because they have no data, people don’t have money for transport or childcare to be able to go to interviews or to work.” This applies to South African citizens too. With clients not being able to come into SCCT, Sarita and the Employment Access team depended on telephonic consultations – and language barriers became more obvious.  

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“Many people who are migrants or refugees are highly qualified when they come to South Africa. In my time at SCCT, I worked with people who are qualified doctors and teachers.” Many people are not able to use their qualifications in South Africa. “One of the qualified nurses applied for a housekeeping job. There are very few people that I’ve met who have been able to work in their fields.” Watch our documentary called Critical Skills, which looks at the struggles that skilled refugees face in order to practice in South Africa here.  

Sarita emphasises that South Africa could be harnessing these skills and qualifications. “We have such a serious lack of skills. We have understaffed hospitals, but hundreds of nurses are here and unable to work. If South Africa could develop accessible processes to allow qualified non-citizens to practice their skills, I definitely think that people who are migrants or refugees could help to fill major gaps in our sectors”. 

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Looking at migration from an economic perspective, Sarita says that research shows, migration could bring positive change to the African continent as a whole. “If South Africa can shift to a Pan-African perspective, I think we could see major benefits. Strengthening our economy and increasing the number of skilled people strengthens us all.”  

Sarita reflects on the wider picture of harnessing the economic potential of migration. “That can only happen if we’re engaging with and including everybody instead of choosing to engage and include one group of people.” (New Study Finds Immigrants in South Africa Generate Jobs for Locals – )  


Going Home: In memory of Appo*

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Thousands of clients walk through Scalabrini’s doors every year. As staff, we have different types of interaction with each client. In some cases, different teams get involved to find a solution. Some stories stay with you forever. Appo will remain someone particularly important to us as a team.

This is in memory of Appo, and is dedicated to his family, wherever they might be.

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Falling sick far from home

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Appo* was from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He migrated to South Africa in 2011. He started a life in Cape Town, but the following year in 2012, he suffered a gunshot wound to the head and his chin was damaged. The wound resulted in cancer, affecting his face. He was treated in the hospital and underwent surgery and different therapies. Appo was becoming increasingly sick and, unable to work, he also lost his job. Sadly, the hospital told him there was nothing more that could be done. Recognizing that he was terminally ill, Appo began to want to return to his homeland.

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A final wish to return home

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Despite it being uncomfortable to move, Appo got onto public transport and often came to Scalabrini. When Appo decided that he wished to return home for his final months, he approached the Welfare Team at Scalabrini for assistance. At that point, they could not assist him in returning home; and as Appo had no other means to leave, it seemed that Appo was trapped in South Africa.

He was renting a small room and Scalabrini assisted with transport, and rent, and was helped by his local church. It was increasingly difficult for Appo to move around and to speak, because the illness was affecting his facial abilities. Finally, Welfare was put in touch with a private donor who was willing to fund the flight home.

One would imagine that the return home of a terminally ill person would be a relatively simple, smooth process. But assisting with the return of Appo took the full force of the Welfare and Advocacy teams combined.

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Ensuring a dignified return

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Normally, returning to your country of origin is a complex administrative process; you must hold official documentation to both leave South Africa and enter your country. The Advocacy Programme  worked with the Department of Home Affairs to cancel Appo’s asylum documentation – a process that typically takes months. Simultaneously, the Congolese authorities had to recognize him as a citizen in issuing emergency travel documentation. For each of these processes, many other documents are required. Above this, the Welfare and Advocacy Teams worked to ensure he would be accepted on the flight as he was at stage four cancer. This process required Appo to come in and out of Scalabrini and to various places, which must have been exhausting for him.

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Taking flight

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Finally, after many hurdles and difficulties – which we were all aware fell mainly on Appo’s shoulders – Appo was on the plane to DRC. It was his first time on a plane, and he was alone and not well. Complications led to him being denied entry to the connecting flight in Johannesburg, and the Scalabrini team in Johannesburg were able to assist him in providing shelter and medical assistance before rearranging his boarding on the next flight to DRC.

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Final words

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Finally, Etienne received a call from a Congolese number. It was an official at the airport in Congo, who called to say that Appo was at the airport but no one was there to collect him. We believe that his family, with whom we had been in touch, had not been able to afford the journeys to the airport from the village and had perhaps suffered a break-down in communication as Appo was not on two previous flights that he was meant to be on.

The church network was alerted and a local priest from Lubumbashi was able to collect and host Appo. We asked to speak to him, but the journey seemed to have exhausted him as the priest told us that Appo was not able to speak anymore. Such a journey is exhausting for a person in good health, let alone someone in Appo’s state. Appo stayed at the church in Lubumbashi, where he was looked after by the church staff as best they could.

Weeks later, we received news that Appo had passed away. It brought us sadness and, to some degree, relief – because Appo was in pain and all he wanted to do was go home. Whilst he was not with his family, he at least passed away in his hometown of Lubumbashi, on his own soil, and was not alone.

We never got to speak again to his family, but we often think of them and wish them the best, as well as everyone who helped Appo along his way – from airport officials to priests. In memory of Appo, who fought until the end.

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*Names have been changed to protect his identity.

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Press Release: Scalabrini Returns to Court for Cape Town Refugee Office Case

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town is back in court challenging the Department of Home Affairs’ non-compliance with the court order ordering the re-opening of a fully functional Refugee Reception Office in Cape Town.

The ‘Special Master’ case is set down for hearing in the Western Cape High Court on 12 and 13 May 2021.

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and the Somali Association of South Africa, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, are going back to court to ask for a ‘Special Master’ to oversee the Department of Home Affair’s compliance in the matter Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town v Minister of Home Affairs (Case 1107/2016) – previous litigation which successfully sought the re-opening of a fully functional Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in Cape Town.

In 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) found the closure of the Cape Town RRO to be unlawful. The SCA ordered that the DHA reopen and maintain a fully functional refugee reception office in or around the Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality by Friday 31 March 2018. The Director-General was also ordered to submit monthly progress reports to the applicants showing progress toward the reopening of the Cape Town RRO.

DHA attempted to appeal this matter to the Constitutional Court, but in December 2017 the Constitutional Court dismissed the DHA’s application and directed it to comply with the SCA Order. To date, no fully functional RRO has been reopened in Cape Town, nor have regular monthly progress reports been submitted.

DHA’s non-compliance has led the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, as applicants in the matter, to re-approach the Courts. We are seeking the appointment of a Special Master to oversee compliance to reopen the RRO.

More Information

For a fuller explanation on the previous Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town v Minister of Home Affairs case, and why a fully functioning RRO in Cape Town is needed, visit our explainer page

Contact Us

For more information, contact:

Sally Gandar

Head of Advocacy & Legal Advisor, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town 


Sherylle Dass

Regional Director: Western Cape, Legal Resources Centre