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

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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.

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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

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