HOME AFFAIRS GRANTS RESIDENCY TO MAJORITY OF ANGOLAN FORMER REFUGEES
In an historic decision, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has granted rights equivalent to permanent residency to the majority of applications that were submitted on ‘special grounds’ by a group of Angolan former refugees. These applications were the applicants’ last attempt to remain in South Africa – a country where they have spent, on average, the last 20 years of their lives. ‘All parties involved have worked very hard on this case. We welcome DHA’s decision to grant these applicants rights of residency, especially in our national context where increasing numbers of migrants are falling into undocumented states. We look forward to engaging further with DHA about this as we are anxious that these applicants will face uncertainty again in 2021’ says Miranda Madikane, director of the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town (SCCT). “The work of the Scalabrini Centre has been made possible in part by a grant of R900 000-00 from the National Lotteries Commission (NLC)”.
A total of 1,702 applications were considered by DHA. Aside from those with criminal records or with police clearance certificates pending, applicants were granted a ‘blanket’ exemption, providing them with permanent residency for a period of four years. The Minister of Home Affairs granted permanent residency to 1,227 applicants (72% of applications considered), subject to them providing biometrics, photographs and, in some cases, further documentation. Permanent residency applications from those with criminal records will be decided on at a later date on a case-by-case basis. Applicants now hold those rights associated with permanent residency, which are effectively all the rights, privileges, duties and obligations of a citizen, save for voting and establishing a political party. However, it is not clear what will happen after this four-year period. The SCCT would like to seek clarification from DHA as to why only four years of residency has been granted and would be grateful for a response as soon as possible.
Following years of legal negotiations between SCCT and DHA, the Minister of Home Affairs agreed to consider and determine applications for permanent residence for all Angolans who, upon the revocation of their refugee statuses in 2013, were issued temporary Angolan Cessation Permits (ACP). These permits expired in 2015. It became clear that these permits could not be renewed, leaving this group of former refugees undocumented after forging deep links with South Africa. Indeed, Angolan refugees were some of the first to seek refuge in democratic South Africa, and have proven that they have integrated deeply within the country. Many had children in South Africa who – now in their early twenties – have never set foot on Angolan soil. Read more about the background to Cessation here.
The recent legal negotiations regarding ACP permit holders led to an agreement, as set out in a Court Order issued by the Western Cape High Court. ACP permit holders were asked to provide the Minister of Home Affairs with documentation proving their socio-economic integration into South Africa and outlining their reasons for wanting to remain permanently in the country. The applications, made in terms of Section 31(2)(b) of the Immigration Act, and included police clearance certificates, bank statements, employment contracts and support letters. On 15 February 2017, SCCT handed in 160 lever-arch files to DHA, documenting the lives of 1,757 Angolan applicants.
According to the data analysis of 1,691 permanent residency applications, SCCT found a high rate of economic activity: 91% of adult applicants were employed. The applicants also proved to be entrepreneurial: 19% of applicants hold their own businesses in South Africa. A quarter of these applicants have South African partners, whilst 21% had South African partners and South African children. This level of socio-economic integration displayed in these applications likely contributed to DHA’s positive decision.
Since the submission of these applications, Angolan former refugees have anxiously awaited the outcome of their permanent residency applications. ‘I have handed in everything that DHA asked for. The feeling of waiting for such a profound response is terrifying’ says Yana Almeida, one of the 1,757 Angolan applicants. Yana was born in Angola and came to South Africa as a six-year old. Yana, now 25 years old, studied digital marketing and intends to establish her own business in Cape Town. ‘I want to remain in South Africa because I have effectively lived my whole life here and have become accustomed to the culture here,’ explains Yana. She will now be able to remain here for another four years.