Scalabrini Centre Releases 2020 Annual Report
This year, life changed for all of us. At SCCT, the Covid-19 pandemic had a wide and deep impact on our services and clients.
Whilst we transitioned our programmes online, our assistance to migrant and refugee populations in South Africa adjusted and adapted to their changed realities. We witnessed clients who – having survived precariously prior to the pandemic – fell into desperate need as jobs disappeared during the national lockdown. But we also witnessed an innovation and resilience – clients (from as far as Brasil) joined our remote English courses whilst others stood in solidarity to assist others in their communities.
One beautiful phenomenon that emerged amidst the hardship of 2020 was an unexpected generosity for those worst impacted by the pandemic. If ever you have been far from home, you will know that the generosity of strangers is a very special and powerful commodity. In ancient Greek culture, xenia (which translates as ‘guest-friendship’) was a sacred rule of hospitality – in which rituals of generosity and courtesy were provided by hosts to strangers who were far from their homes. Xenia sets out reciprocal actions that apply to both host and guest, and is a theme which threads through important texts – such as the Qu’ran and the Bible – and is crystallized in our own cultures – like our sense of Ubuntu.
How xenia plays out in the modern world, especially in the context of migration in South Africa, is vital to our work at SCCT – and vital to migrants and refugees far from their homes.
Through our various client-facing programmes, we were deeply aware of an extreme hardship facing our clients under lockdown. Between April and August 2020, for example, our Welfare Programme had provided direct aid to approximately 5,045 people (their target for this period is usually 364 people). This hardship reflected the wider struggles facing South Africa: during the pandemic our unemployment rate rose to just over 30%.
You would think that in this context of dwindling incomes, unsteady jobs and uncertain futures, ‘xenia’ would be at its lowest. But we witnessed an organic, bountiful generosity from all corners of society. Take our crowd-funding campaign that raised R197,000 for welfare assistance to those who are refugees or migrants facing serious hardship under lockdown. Or take Artists4Equity – an online artists’ auction – which raised R17,000 for the same fund, through the generosity of its organisers and participating artists. Or Joel’s Table, who approached us to inform us of his pop-up restaurant evening, which raised R2,000 for SCCT’s fund.
These donations all stand for something: they stand for hospitality and generosity – a form of ‘xenia’ – even in the face of crisis and pandemic. If anything, this pandemic has been a humbling reminder of the fragility of what we have. Perhaps it is this reminder that sparks such deep generosity.
This year saw some key successes at SCCT including the Advocacy Programme’s success in the High Court resulting in the Social Relief of Distress Grant being extended to certain asylum seekers and special permit holders. Our programmes harnessed modern technology to provide remote services in innovative ways: UNITE completed all curriculum modules using Zoom and WhatsApp, whilst English School used a newly designed WhatsApp curriculum! UpLearn created and launched a new professional development curriculum and, behind the scenes, teams like Facilities and Communications worked hard to make sure all these programmes ran smoothly and were represented to the outside world.
Enjoy reading, and we hope wherever you are, you are a provider or recipient of ‘xenia’ – which is generous and magic, even in the smallest of doses!
Press Statement: Asylum Corruption Report Launched
Lawyers for Human Rights to Release Corruption Report in SA’s Asylum System
On Tuesday, 15 September 2020, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), in collaboration with Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and Corruption Watch, released its report Costly Protection: Corruption in South Africa’s Asylum System. The report tracks changes in corruption in the asylum system over the last five years, as well as instances of corruption purported to occur in and around the Refugee Reception Offices (RROs).
Prompted by clients’ continued reports of corruption and barriers to realising their refugee status, and ultimately not being able to access the RROs, with barriers to access including demands for bribes, LHR initiated the assessment underpinning this report in late 2019, using both quantitative and qualitative methods to assess the current state of affairs in respect of corruption at RROs in South Africa.
Costly Protection: Corruption in South Africa’s Asylum System is a follow up to the report published by LHR and the African Centre for Migration & Society in 2015, “Queue Here for Corruption”, which was a quantitative assessment of corruption at South Africa’s RROs at that time. Costly Protection also takes note of the 2016 report published by Corruption Watch, Asylum at a Price, which highlights how corruption impacts those seeking legal protection in South Africa.
The report release will be accompanied by a webinar launch event on Thursday, 17 September 2020 at 9h00 via the Zoom platform which will cover corruption in South Africa and its effect on the rule of law, as well as the background and findings of “Costly Protection: Corruption in South Africa’s Asylum System”.
This report and launch event are made possible by the generous support of the Social Justice Initiative.
For more information, contact:
Lawyers for Human Rights: Sharon Ekambaram, Sharone@lhr.org.za.
Corruption Watch: Phemelo Khaas, PhemeloK@corruptionwatch.org.za.
Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town: Sally Gandar, email@example.com.
Guide to Protecting Vulnerable Children in South Africa
Lawyers for Human Rights, CoRMSA and the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town have created a guide to working with vulnerable children in South Africa.
This guide can be used as an information tool for social workers, professionals working in child protection and to inform the public on the rights and protection pathways for vulnerable children living in South Africa. Vulnerable children living in South Africa include refugee, asylum-seeking, stateless, separated, unaccompanied and undocumented children.
This guide also contains the contact details for organisations who can provide legal and psycho-social support for children.
Reporting on Migration in South Africa: A Journalist’s Guide
Sonke Gender Justice and Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town have co-authored a new media guide: Reporting on Migration in South Africa: A Guide for Journalists and Editors.
Benign Neglect or Active Destruction?
In a four-part series, we summarize academic articles published by the Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa (SIHMA), which conducts research on migration in Africa. The article summarized below, “Benign Neglect or Active Destruction? A Critical Analysis of Refugee and Informal Sector Policy and Practice in South Africa,” was originally authored by Jonathan Crush, Caroline Skinner, and Manal Stulgaitis.
In 2007, the Zimbabwean economy crashed, causing great numbers of Zimbabweans to come to South Africa in search of work and stability(1). The massive influx of migrants put the South African asylum system under significant pressure, shedding light on crippling weaknesses in the system. Unfortunately, the asylum has increasingly been conflated with generalized migration. Officials across the country adopted the position that 90% of asylum seekers are economic migrants and denounced them as abusers of the asylum system.(2)
Looking at the big picture, the underlying problem is not the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers, but the fact that the South African asylum system is overwhelmed, corrupt, poorly-informed, and mismanaged. Delays in status adjudication, arbitrary status decisions, and the tendency to decide claims based on a migrant’s home country rather than individual experiences are all commonplace. Moreover, widespread xenophobic attitudes portray migration as a zero-sum game in which any advantages for migrants come at the cost of South Africans and which fail to acknowledge the positive economic, cultural, and social contributions that migrants and asylum seekers make.
In their recent survey “Benign Neglect or Active Destruction? A Critical Analysis of Refugee and Informal Sector Policy and Practice in South Africa,” Jonathan Crush, Caroline Skinner, and Manal Stulgaitis discuss these features of the asylum and migration landscape, connecting them to an overarching trend of rising restrictionism in asylum practice. They find that the post-apartheid refugee protection regime has shifted from a strongly rights-based approach to an approach rooted in restrictionism, exclusion, and general incompetence among status determination officials and others who implement refugee policy. Moreover, since the 1990s, the livelihoods of the many migrants and refugees who work in the informal sector – running shops and micro-businesses, street vending, etc. – have been threatened by sporadic governance. At best, municipal authorities across the country have neglected the informal sector in their policies, but at worst, they have actively sought to eradicate informal business. All of these trends and developments point to the necessity of rights-based refugee systems and more progressive, supportive informal sector policies.
From Rights-Based Protection to Rights Restriction
Drawing inputs from a variety of sources and 30 in-depth interviews with informants in Cape Town, Limpopo, and Gauteng, the authors identify the 2017 Refugees Amendment Act and the Green Paper and White Papers on International Migration in South Africa as embodiments of the shift from post-apartheid rights-based refugee frameworks to more restrictive, rights-limiting legislation. Over time, the rights-based policy reflected in the 1998 Refugees Act has eroded due to a combination of factors: struggles with effective and efficient implementation, the migration pressure brought by Zimbabwe’s 2007 economic collapse, engrained xenophobia among the public and policy makers, and most broadly, high numbers of migrants and asylum seekers coming into a system that is under-resourced, under-staffed, poorly-trained, and increasingly corrupt.
Four connected strategies are embedded in the 2016 Refugees Amendment Act, Green and White Papers, and other migration policy instruments, aiming to restrict rights, opportunities, and livelihood stability for refugees. The implicit goal is to make South Africa a significantly less desirable destination for asylum seekers.
First, there continues to be a visible shift from the earlier refugee protection paradigm of integration to one based on encampment. The DHA (Department of Home Affairs) intends to create isolated Asylum-Seeker Protection Centers that would essentially serve as detention centers where asylum seekers live until the conclusion of their status determination processes; this system would bar asylum seekers’ abilities to integrate, find work, study, or move through the country freely, and it would render them dependent on the UNHCR or government for basic needs.
Second, logistical and administrative barriers have been established on multiple levels to undermine refugees’ stability. The number of Refugee Reception Offices (RROs) was cut in half by the DHA, and the current requirement that asylum-seekers renew their permits every one to six months at an RRO rather than at Home Affairs offices places significant financial and logistical hardships on the asylum-seekers. Moreover, the 2016 Refugees Amendment Act holds that a refugee or asylum seeker who fails to renew her permit within a month of its expiration will automatically have her status revoked, forfeit her right to future permit renewal, and be vulnerable to detention and arrest as an illegal foreigner. Under the act, a refugee can also only apply for permanent residence after ten years instead of the previous five. (3)
Third, recent policies and legislation have sought to undermine court judgements that have affirmed refugees’ and asylum-seekers’ rights to self-employment and other work. One aim of the 2016 Refugees Amendment Act is to overturn a judgement that affirmed asylum-seekers’ right to work while their refugee claims are adjudicated; this would make asylum-seekers dependent on friends, family, NGOs, and the UNHCR for shelter and support before they receive status decisions, disabling them from self-support for what can be a very long time.
Fourth, actions have been taken to limits asylum-seeker and refugees’ access to crucial financial services. Some banks refuse to open accounts for refugees and asylum-seekers, demonstrating low trust in Home Affairs documentation and only sanctioning accounts for individuals with South African national identity cards. Refugees who have managed to open accounts have repeatedly seen their accounts frozen due to changes in documents or the DHA failing to respond to verification enquiries, threatening the account holders’ abilities to afford rent, food, and travel to renew their status documents. Consequently, many refugees have to keep large stashes of cash in their homes and businesses, and especially in informal settlements and townships, these places are targeted by thieves and burglars.
Neglect and Targeting of the Informal Sector
Informal sector policies directly impact refugee livelihoods, as the lack of job opportunities in the formal sector largely restricts refugees to work in the informal sector. Surveying policies and actions from different levels of government, it becomes clear that South African treatment of the informal sector and migrants within it has been highly irregular, varying between neglect and marginalization to intentional destruction and oppression.
The apartheid government had a long history of opposing informal sector activity before the 1991 Business Act 71 started a reversal of the limiting apartheid policies. This more welcoming attitude toward informal business was again reflected in the 1995 White Paper on the Development and Promotion of Small Businesses and the 1996 National Small Business Act, which entitled survivalist businesses and micro-enterprises to government support and recognition in theory. Nevertheless, both pieces of legislation fail to acknowledge the specific concerns of migrants or refugees and generally overlook informal business. Moreover, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has worked to build a nation-wide network of Local Business Development Centers to support enterprises of different size, but informal sector businesses still mostly fall through the cracks between unemployment and small business.
In 2003, President Mbeki gave the informal sector its first clear political recognition since the end of apartheid when he outlined the characteristics and potential of the so-called “second economy” – an economy that includes the impoverished rural and urban communities that make up much of the South African population, contributes minimally to the GDP, and generally struggles to drive its own growth or connect to the national “first economy.” Mbeki proposed a variety of measures to invest capital and resources into the second economy to help it integrate into the developed first sector.
However, since 2012, the informal sector has received national attention in a very sporadic, often disabling way. On the more benign side, The National Development Plan aims to create millions of jobs by 2030, including as many as 2.1 million informal sector jobs, but it includes no clear strategy for how this will be accomplished or how to knock down barriers that limit informal sector growth. DTI has been much more contradictory in its informal sector policies. In 2012, it established a directorate to support informal business development; the very next year, it released a Draft Business Licensing Bill that has been criticized for criminalizing the informal sector.
Some policies and practices go further, discriminating against migrants in the informal sector. In 2014, DTI’s National Informal Business Upliftment Strategy has signs of anti-migrant sentiment, referencing migrant takeover of local businesses. Though supposed to constructively regulate and support the informal sector, province governments have significant freedom in continuing to target migrant informal businesses. Limpopo Province launched a military-style crackdown called Operation Hardstick in 2012, in which police targeted migrant-run informal businesses, shut down over 600 businesses, detained shipowners, and told some business owners who were also refugees and asylum-seekers that their permits did not entitle them to running a business. Local governments have shown a pattern of targeting street vendors who are also migrants; in 2013, the Johannesburg City Council removed 6000 street traders, many of whom were migrants and asylum-seekers. The Cape Town government, meanwhile systematically excludes the contributions and development of street trade and township trade, and Somali-owned spaza shops in particular have been prohibited in some areas.
To conclude, Crush, Skinner, and Stulgaitis’s coupled analysis of refugee protection policy and treatment of the informal sector reveals that migrants and asylum-seekers must operate in an environment that limits their integration and stability at virtually every turn. The rights-based, more liberal refugee protection policies phased in after apartheid have given way to a much more restrictive approach. Not only does the DHA aim to severely limit asylum-seekers’ integration and mobility by phasing in an encampment strategy, but asylum-seekers and migrants also face numerous legal and administrative barriers in building stable lives in South Africa, are targeted by efforts to undermine court judgements that have affirmed their rights, and suffer from practices that stifle their access to banking and other financial services.
To compound all of these challenges, the government acts on a spectrum that runs from neglect to outright destruction of the informal sector businesses that provide so many refugees with incomes and livelihoods. In such a disabling and contradictory environment, migrants are pressured to be extremely self-reliant by the harsh protection policies, yet their self-reliance is constantly undermined by destructive or irregular informal sector policies. Litigation and the work of non-governmental organizations has helped to underline the contradiction between the generous rights listed in the South African Constitution and Refugees Act and the oppressive, marginalizing actions of government departments implementing and writing policy. However, the greater hope is that legislation and policy implementation that encourage migrants’ integration, rights, and economic contributions will come to replace the recent coercive approach.
This summarised article was written by a Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town Volunteer Lucy Arnold
CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO DOWNLOAD PDF
(1) Crush, J. and Tevera, D. (Eds.). 2010. Zimbabwe’s Exodus: Crisis, Migration, Survival. Ottawa: IDRC and Cape Town: SAMP.
(2) DHA. 2016. Green Paper on International Migration in South Africa. Pretoria: Department of Home Affairs.
(3) The 2013 Angolan Cessation is another key example of policy actions undermining refugee status. Rolled out by the DHA, this policy stripped Angolan refugees of their status regardless of how long they had lived in South Africa, issuing them two-year non-renewable temporary residence permits to allow them to set their affairs before their mandatory return to Angola. This action has been challenged successfully by a variety of organizations and affected individuals, but it still sets the precedent that the Minister of Home Affairs can end the recognition of refugee individuals or groups and revoke their status without justification.