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Scalabrini Centre launches ‘Speaking in the Gap’

This report reflects on the research process and findings of a short study designed to explore how the personal, lived experiences of marginalised communities can be creatively expressed with the aim of informing, shaping, and catalysing political and high-level advocacy work.

Covid-19 Lock-down: Important information for refugees and migrants in South Africa

This webpage centralizes information that is important for refugee and migrant communities to know about during the Covid-19 lock-down. Please contact us on Facebook or at with your questions.


The Banking Association of South Africa confirmed that their banks do not automatically restrict such bank accounts as a result of expired asylum or refugee documentation.

Asylum seeker permits or refugee status which expired during lockdown (from 15 March 2020 onwards) are considered to have been extended up to, and including, 30 June 2021 (see “Documentation” below). If you are having difficulty accessing your bank account because your asylum seeker permit or refugee status expired during lockdown, you should print out these Department of Home Affairs’ Directions and take this to the bank, along with your document.

If you have further questions about this, you can contact our Advocacy Programme. To do so, please send a WhatsApp to 0782603536. This is operational between 9am and 4pm, Monday to Friday.


Scalabrini runs a project focusing on non-South African / foreign children. We provide assistance in terms of child protection and documentation, and our team includes a social worker and auxiliary social worker. If you are concerned about the welfare of a child during lock-down please send an SMS or a ‘please-call’ to our Advocacy hotline on 0782603536.

Contacting Scalabrini

If you have a question for a specific programme, click here to find out how you can contact us at this time.

Documentation / Home Affairs

Asylum/refugee visas:

If your asylum seeker permit or refugee status has expired, or is due to expire, during lockdown (from 15 March 2020 onwards), it is considered to have been extended up to, and including, 30 April 2022. 

You can read these Directions and Amended Directions in a combined document here. This confirms the extension up to 30 June. Then, on 29 June, the Department of Home Affairs made an announcement extending this until 30 September 2021. You can see the announcement here. On 29 September , the Department of Home Affairs made an announcement extending this until 31 December 2021. You can read these Amended Directions here 

The Department of Home Affairs has also indicated that they will begin an online renewal process for asylum seeker and refugee documentation.

We have developed an infographic to guide you through this online process. Click here to see the infographic.

Refugee Reception Offices:

Refugee Reception Offices have not offered any face-to-face services since they closed at the beginning of lockdown.  As explained above, the Department of Home Affairs has also indicated that they will begin an online renewal process for asylum seeker and refugee documentation. See our infographic about this here.

Immigration visas (work, business, study, etc):

Home Affairs has said that visas which expired from 15 February 2020 will not be declared illegal or prohibited persons, nor will they be arrested or detained for holding an expired visa. They are considered to have had their visa extended up until 30 June 2021 – see amended regulations here. If they wish to apply for an extension, they may reapply for their respective visas or relevant visa exemptions while in the Republic immediately after the lockdown has been lifted. Furthermore, if your visa expired during the lockdown period and you wish to leave South Africa, you should not receive a ‘ban’ upon exiting South Africa.

Certain visas have been extended until 30 September 2021. You can read more about this here.

VFS Global: 

All applications pertaining to immigration visas in South Africa are to be made via VFS Global. VFS is accepting applications on temporary residence visas and waivers. Other services are to be phased in. Appointments must be made; please check the VFS Global South Africa site for more details.

Civic services at the Department of Home Affairs:

DHA confirmed in March 2021 that services such as birth registration, re- issuance of births certificates, death registration, applications for temporary identity certificate, applications for identity cards or documents, collection of identity cards or documents, applications and collection of passports, applications for amendments of personal particulars, applications for rectification of personal particulars, solemnisation and registration of marriages, all back office operational services to support front offices on the above services, visa services in terms of the Immigration Act and online renewal of refugee status and asylum seeker permits /visas.

IDs and travel documents for dependents:

The Department of Home Affairs has made certain services available for dependents (joined to the file) of recognised refugees. This means that if you have refugee status, and you have dependents joined to your refugee file or dependents who were previously joined, that dependent can now apply on email for an ID or travel document if they can show supporting documentation that they are writing matric, enrolling in further studies, or taking up employment. You must have all the supporting documents listed in the DHA document shown here, and can email a request to


Regarding all learner’s licences, driving licence cards, temporary driving licences and professional driving permits that expired between March 26 and December 31 2020: these are deemed to be valid, and their validity periods have been extended until August 31 2021. 

In terms of driving licenses, people on asylum seeker or refugee documentation should also be provided with services at licensing services centres. If you are denied this service, you can contact Scalabrini’s Advocacy Team. To do this, you can send a WhatsApp to 078 260 3536. Or you can call, SMS or send a please-call-me to 083 433 5062. This will be logged and one of the Advocacy team members will get back to you.

Emergency Contacts

If you feel unsafe during lock-down, or want to report a crime, or need a similar urgent services, click here to see a list of numbers to call who can support you – which has been translated into different languages.


For housing or eviction-related advice or assistance you can contact the Legal Support Hotline on 066 076 8845, or the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (WhatsApp, call or ‘please-call-me’ to 073 226 4648 / 071 301 9676 / 083 720 6600 or email or Ndifuna Ukwazi (081 832 9363;

Legal Advice

For general legal advice, call the Legal Support Hotline on 066 076 8845. You can also click here for CoRMSA’s list of useful contacts. 

For advice relating to the lives of migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees (whether documented or undocumented), please contact Scalabrini’s Advocacy Team. To do this, you can send a WhatsApp to 078 260 3536. Or you can call, SMS or send a please-call-me to 083 433 5062. This will be logged and one of the Advocacy team members will get back to you.


The Department of Home Affairs has confirmed  that services at civic offices include the solemnisation and registration of marriages. Following a recent court case, asylum seekers in South Africa who wish to have their marriage solemnised by the Department of Home Affairs (or to register their customary marriage at DHA) should be able to do so. This includes marriages between people where asylum documents have expired since the state of national disaster was declared (15 March 2020).

If you are having difficulties with this, you can contact Scalabrini’s Advocacy Team. Please send an SMS or “please-call” to 0782603536 and, if possible, include your full name. Your message will be logged and one of our Advocacy Team members will get in touch with you.

Preventing the spread of Covid-19

Click here to download and share our posters about covid-19. These posters are translated into 12 different languages, including Lingala, Somali, Swahili, Kikongo, French, Zulu and Xhosa.

Reporting abuse by police and military during lock-down

Under lock-down, the police and military have a role to prevent the spread of covid-19. To this end, they can only use force in very specific circumstances. Lawyers for Human Rights have created an infographic to explain this, and how to report on it – click here to view it. The Military Ombudsman can be called on 076 609 2255.

Rent – paying rent during lockdown

Under lock-down, paying rent might not be easy. If you are having trouble paying your rent, first engage with your landlord. Ndifuna Ukwazi has created an infographic on What happens if you cannot pay rent during lockdown. They have also created a podcast which you can listen to for more details.

SASSA (grants)

SASSA Grants are accessible by South African citizens, those with refugee status, or those with permanent residency in South Africa. In order to apply, a 13-digit ID number is required. For those on refugee status, this 13-digit ID number is generated only when a Refugee ID is applied to (which is different to refugee status, and can only be applied to if refugee status is granted). However, SASSA has made provision, under lockdown, for those refugees who, although they have refugee status, do not have a 13-digit ID as they have not applied for a refugee ID. This is a temporary measure only. SASSA will generate a unique 13-digit ID for these cases. The applicant must phone the SASSA helpline, and get instructions on the various steps they have to take; one of which is deposing to an affidavit. If your refugee status has expired, we advise you to try to claim your SASSA grant. You can also contact: 0800 601011 for SASSA questions. If you are then denied access, please call Refugee Rights Unit on 021 650 5581 for legal assistance.

Please note, regarding the Social Relief of Distress Grant: Following a court case undertaken by Scalabrini and Norton Rose Fullbright, some of South Africa’s asylum-seekers and special-permit holders are now able to apply for the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant (‘SRD grant’).  Applicants for the grant, just like any other persons, will still subject to SASSA’s eligibility criteria – they cannot be receiving an income, any other form of grant, or any economic relief from UIF. People who hold asylum-seeker and special permit status in South Africa, whose documents were valid at the start of the National State of Disaster will be able to apply for the SRD grant. Applicants will need to provide their documents, as issued by the South African government. This SRD grant is a ‘special’ grant rolled out for a limited period only, until March 2022, and only eligible candidates will receive R350 each month during that limited period.

To find out if you are eligible for the SRD Grant read our infographic here 

Read our SRD Grant infographic, for people on asylum documentation or special permits,  here.

Testing and Strategy for Covid-19

For more information on the South African government’s response to Covid-19, keep updated at If you have a Covid-19 health-related query, you can call the National Hotline on 0800 029 999 or the toll-free hotline on 080 928 4102. The Western Cape has its own Western Cape Government’s Covid-19 Response page, too.

Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF)

Because of the covid-19 lockdown, the Department of Labour set up the  ‘COVID-19 Temporary Employee / Employer Scheme’. This helps employers pay a part of their employee’s salary if they closed completely or partially during the lockdown. Normally, your employer should start this process, however if your employer is not using this Scheme you may also be able to apply on your own behalf. For any queries related to UIF TERS Benefits Application, call the UIF Call Centre (0800 030 007).

We have also made an infographic and explainer on the COVID-19 Temporary Employee / Employer Scheme, aimed at those on refugee, asylum or migrant status in South Africa. Please note that *closing dates* have now been applied to UIF TERS. Follow the link above for more information.

Alternatively, if you are a UIF contributor and are unemployed because of termination, dismissal, or insolvency, or if you have reduced income owing to reduced working hours, you may be eligible to apply for Normal UIF Benefits – apply online with the UIF Online Filing System. For more info, follow this UIF’s Easy Guide for Electronic Claims, call UIF for assistance (0800 030 007), or read our Explainer on UIF.

Welfare assistance

We encourage those needing welfare assistance to research all available options, including your local Community Action Network, churches and masjids.

If you have questions about assistance and support, you can contact the Scalabrini Welfare team.

However, please note, our Welfare Team has a very limited fund to help refugees and migrants at this time. Please understand that the Welfare Team are simply not able to assist everyone. We are receiving a very high number of calls and requests. Your application to Welfare Assistance will be assessed, but we cannot assist everyone.

To apply, please call or send a ‘please-call’ SMS to 071 711 1486 (Monday-Friday 9am-4pm). You can also email

For governmental updates, check The national Covid-19 hotline is contactable on: 0800 029 999.

Mapping of mental health and psychosocial services for children (including children on the move) in the Western Cape

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This document has been compiled by the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town in order to map various services available to children, including children on the move, in respect of mental health and psychosocial support. The document has adopted a wide interpretation of mental health and psychosocial support services so that it includes more conventional mental health programmes and support, such as the SA depression and anxiety group, as well as other wellbeing personal development-related programmes.  

It is acknowledged that this mapping project is a living document and will need to be updated from time to time as resources and offerings change, as well as if services are added or discontinued. It is recommended that a review is done on at least a yearly basis in this regard. 

This mapping document was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, UNHCR, and UNICEF and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.  

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Critical Skills: A documentary

South Africa is losing out on the skills of refugees living in the country. Critical Skills, our new documentary released on Labour Day 2021, looks at the struggles that skilled refugees face in order to practice in South Africa. Complex requirements result in doctors and vets working as trench-diggers and meat-packers. The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town is advocating for improved systems to recognize skilled refugees, thus allowing them to practice and the South African economy to benefit from their qualifications.

Critical Skills follows Dr Ntumba, a veterinary doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who specializes in agropastoralism, and Dr Futu, a medical doctor also from DRC, who managed a hospital in the conflict-ridden Eastern provinces of Congo providing care to victims of war. Both Dr Ntumba and Dr Futu left DRC due to political instability.

Simply unable to get their skills recognised in South Africa, Dr Ntumba works packing meat in a supermarket and Dr Futu finds small jobs such as trench-digging. ‘Emotionally, you feel diminished,’ explains Dr Ntumba. ‘Without practicing, I will lose my skills. South Africa is actually losing … they should have used me.’

Paper battles in South Africa

The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) is the sole authority to recognize foreign qualifications in South Africa. Dr Julie Reddy, acting CEO of SAQA, and Mr Navin Vasudev, Deputy Director, who feature in the documentary, evaluate foreign qualifications against the South African National Qualifications Framework. Yearly, SAQA evaluates around 25,000 foreign qualifications.

Applicants to this SAQA process require a host of documents – including every original transcript of each year passed at college or university. For refugees who have fled their countries due to war or persecution, having all these documents is very difficult. Universities in certain areas (especially those affected by conflict) may have shut down, barring SAQA’s ability to verify information.

A pilot project: evaluation of incomplete documentation of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa

In response to refugees and asylum seekers’ lack of original documents, SAQA has been working on alternative ways to recognise asylum and refugee applicants. This culminated in SAQA drawing up an addendum that allows for a special dispensation to recognise qualifications of refugees and asylum seekers. SAQA ran a pilot project in November 2019 to allow for alternative means of verifying and evaluating qualifications whilst allowing for stringent checks. 

Professional councils: the next hurdle

If SAQA recognition is achieved, another hurdle is faced by foreign applicants: registration with a relevant professional council. This is a cumbersome and expensive process – sitting the South African Veterinary Council exam, for example, costs around 34 000 ZAR. On top of this, most professional bodies only accept refugee documentation, and not asylum seeker documentation. (A recent report found that 60% of asylum respondents’ adjudications took over five years – so many asylum-seekers spend considerable lengths of time on asylum documentation.)

Three ideas for South African authorities

Hylton Bergh, Employment Access Manager at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, works to ensure asylum seeker, refugee and migrant clients are able to practice their skills in South Africa. In the documentary, he explains three changes that could ensure an improved process for the employment of qualified refugees in South Africa:

Professional councils need to be made aware of the circumstances of foreign nationals and their value, both monetary and intellectual, to the various professional sectors – which includes allowing asylum seekers to register with professional bodies.

The South African government could reconsider BBBEE policies, especially as it relates to the Critical Skills List, because refugees from elsewhere in Africa currently do not contribute to BBBEE points.

South African industries could advocate for changes to the above policies because the more skilled our work force the better the economic growth for our country.


Hylton Bergh

Employment Access Manager

Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town

Navin Vasudev

Deputy Director-Verification Foreign Qualifications Evaluation and Advisory Services

South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA)

Lotte Manicom

Advocacy Communications Manager

Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town