Scalabrini Centre releases the 2019 – 2020 Annual Report

Supporting Migrants and Refugees through the Covid-19 crisis

In response to the growing need, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town set up a fundraising drive to support those asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants specifically in need during the nationwide lock-down due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Whilst provisions have been put in place by the South African government for some of the most vulnerable members of society, much of the Covid-19 relief is not available to the refugees, asylum-seeker and migrant community.

Money raised will go directly to our Welfare Programme who will assist those migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees who are in most desperate need at this time. All donations will receive an A18 certificate on request which makes the donations tax deductible.

If you would like to make other donations such as food and clothes please contact

We have reached our target, thank you for everyone's support. As we continue to navigate lockdown and what this means for migrants and refugees the more we raise the more families we can assist during this unprecedented time.

Following the #BlackLivesMatter protest movements in early June 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, our Backabuddy campaign received a spike in donations. Thank you to all those who donated, to support refugees and migrants in South Africa whose lives have become increasingly vulnerable following the pandemic. 

We stand in solidarity with movements calling for justice, reformation and an end to systematic police brutality and racism. Last week, the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the USA. Meanwhile, in South Africa, the number of deaths in SANDF and SAPS custody under lock-down emerged (which is at least 11, and included two members of South Africa’s migrant/refugee community). Both of these acts of police brutality are the latest in an ugly history of brutality and racist oppression.

We stand in solidarity with #Black_Lives_Matter, in a call for justice and for reformation. We support organisations doing important work in trying to achieve reform in the criminal justice and prisons sector. We support the important work of Lawyers For Human Rights, the Detention Justice Forum, and others, in this regard. We also support and acknowledge the grassroots and community organisations doing this work

Here is a summary of our impact so far with the funds raised.

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

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.

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

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

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.

Urgent Letter: Scalabrini requests Equal Treatment for Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Migrants in South Africa’s Covid-19 Responses

On 25th March 2020, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town wrote a letter to the South African presidency and several ministers. The letter urges them that migrants, asylum seekers and refugees must be included in the response to the covid-19 pandemic.

The letter sets out concerns around the the differentiation in approaches pertaining to non-citizens depending on whether their documentation is issued in terms of the Immigration Act or the Refugees Act.

This lack of formal response to South Africa’s refugee and migrant community exists despite Ramaphosa’s speeches on the importance of an inclusive, pan-African approach to combating covid-19. In the spirit of these words and the sentiment of inclusion, we urge the National Command Centre and all relevant Ministers to ensure a whole-of-society approach in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and impacts of the Lockdown.

Our letter therefore makes five main demands:

(1) The publication of a formal directive or circular  regarding the renewal of asylum seeker and refugee documentation.
(2) The publication of clear guidelines prohibiting the suspension of any service normally provided to an asylum seeker or refugee document holder, where the suspension is the result of the covid-19 lockdown related expiry of such documentation.
(3) The inclusion of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the various economic assistance packages, and social relief packages, without discrimination.
(4) The release of clear communication and public statements indicating that non-citizens will not be discriminated against in covid-19 testing, screening and tracing measures, regardless of documentation status.
(5) The reiteration of the need for a moratorium on immigration detention and deportation, as well as deportation related arrests and the processing of deportations at this time.

trace the face red cross and scalabrini

Trace the Face launches to assist restoring family links

Trace the Face is a new programme launched in partnership with The National Red Cross. The goal of the program is to prevent separation & disappearances, to restore and maintain contact between family members and to reunite family members.


Love Letters to Motsoaledi

This Valetine’s day, we are sending #LoveLettersToMotsoaledi, calling on him to open dialogue with us on new refugee laws. #ChatUsUpMotsoaledi


The Scalabrini Centre expresses solidarity and support for our partners organisations’ recent court case on undocumented children regarding their access to education in South Africa.


The Scalabrini Centre expresses solidarity and support for our partners organisations’ recent court case on undocumented children regarding their access to education in South Africa.

migration insights staff hylton

Three insights on migration: Hylton, our Employment Access Programme manager

The Scalabrini team works with migrants and refugees everyday. With such deep expertise at hand, we take the opportunity to reflect on migration with them. This month we speak to Hylton, the Employment Access Programme Manager, whose passion for the work that he does is inspired by the people he is surrounded by at Scalabrini. 

  1. Changing perceptions of migrants in the workforce

“We need to stop looking at migration as only a negative thing. Yes, our unemployment rate is high, but it is not the fault of the migrants.” Within his sphere of work, Hylton wants to expand advocacy work around migration and development. He aims to build awareness in the work sphere as well as protect clients from being taken advantage of. He acknowledges that asylum seekers have the most difficult time when it comes to finding employment as many employers don’t understand the asylum seeker process. Preconceived ideas and thought patterns make the already intimidating world of employment that much more difficult to access. “Trying to change… with other partner organisations, the government and employer mindsets, keeps me passionate. I want to look more outwards. We need to effect some change on the landscape out there.”

  1. Working with others encourages reflections on our own privilege 

Meeting people and hearing their stories of resilience has helped change Hylton’s mindset. “There’s not a lot of feelings of entitlement (among clients), which keeps me quite humble and makes me think about my own life and the privileges that I have.” Working at Scalabrini has enabled Hylton, not to change his perceptions on migration, but to improve and broaden them. “It makes me even more aware of the privilege and benefits that I have as a South African citizen. It just makes me appreciate what I do have a lot more… I can live in a relatively safe environment where our rights are upheld.”

  1. Everyone deserves the chance to create a livelihood

“I feel that everybody deserves the chance to provide for their family and to create a livelihood.” Hiring non-South African employees brings with it an increase in cultural diversity and new insights that South Africans can learn from. Hylton wants employers to recognise this potential. “Learn from the people. I learn from them everyday. I think the government feeds into the negative ideas and paint the migrants as the bad guys. So that kind of mindset needs to be shifted. You can’t solve everything immediately, you do need to think long term and at the same time try to solve the micro stuff too. What we are doing here is amazing, and I am proud to be a part of it”