Repatriation and reconnection: facilitating a journey home with the Welfare Team

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Pauline* (name changed to protect her identity) found herself in hospital in Cape Town – alone and struggling with her mental health. Once discharged from hospital, it was likely that Pauline would end up homeless. Working in collaboration with Stikland Psychiatric Hospital and their social worker, the Welfare Team helped facilitate Pauline’s repatriation, back home to the love and support of her family.  

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Pauline lived in Lubumbashi, before she decided to follow her sister to South Africa. Not much is known about her life in Cape Town, except that it was not long before she started showing signs of schizophrenia – this had not happened before moving to South Africa.  

When Pauline started displaying these signs, she was first admitted to Karl Bremer hospital and then to Stikland – a psychiatric hospital in Cape Town. Unknowingly, Stikland was where she would spend the next year of her life.  

After four months of being hospitalised, Pauline was stable and ready to be discharged. The social worker reached out to Pauline’s sister, only to be told that they had moved to Durban and “wanted nothing to do with it.” 

Pauline was undocumented, could not speak English and had now lost her support system. Because she was undocumented, she was unable to access a disability grant – needed for her to be placed in an adequate shelter. “There were multi-layered challenges around the client that made her particularly vulnerable” said the Welfare Team. If Pauline was discharged from Stikland, she would have been homeless – on the streets of a city that was not her home.  

This was when the social worker contacted Scalabrini’s Welfare Team. The team would go on to work on this case for close to a year.  

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The Welfare Team arranged, with the help of the social worker, for Pauline to stay in the hospital until adequate plans were made. The team felt that the best option for Pauline would be to go home. Repatriation was put on the table – paid for by the hospital – and the Welfare Team kicked things into full gear, determined to get Pauline home, to the safety and support of her family.  

“This was when we started tracing the family,” explains Etienne, Welfare Consultant. The language barrier had made it difficult for the social worker on Pauline’s case. Etienne, being from DRC himself, speaks French and Lingala, and was able to step in.  

Through speaking to Pauline’s family back home, it was discovered that her sister had not moved to Durban at all – she was still in Cape Town, living in the same house. “She was rejected by her sister.” 

Sadly, this is something that the Welfare Team has come across many times before – where the family members in South Africa reject the person in need of care.We have a lot of clients who are in the hospital. There are so many clients in the same situations with no proper exit strategies. Sometimes they [the social workers] will just dump them outside the offices here without saying anything, “ says Jane, Welfare Manager.  

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Although Pauline’s sister did not want to help, her family in DRC were gravely concerned and wanted her home as soon as possible. To ensure Pauline’s safe arrival home, the Welfare Team took on the task of securing her travel documents, facilitating the process with the embassies and preparing her family for her arrival. This work took months. 

It was decided that another sister would come meet Pauline in South Africa and take her home, but unfortunately the costs were too high for the family and Pauline had to travel alone – fortunately she was still feeling stable. Etienne worked in a hospital in the DRC – his experience proved vital in this case, as he was able to contact hospitals in Pauline’s home city. He could confidently make sure that she would be able to get the correct medication she needs.  

On 23 November 2021, the team put Pauline on a plane where she bravely made her way back home. She was warmly welcomed by her family and is still of stable mental health – photos have been sent. The Welfare Team will continue to keep in touch with Pauline and her family to assist as best they can from South Africa. “Pauline’s case is a long-term case for us”. And a triumphant one too.  



What Pauline went through in South Africa, is something that the Welfare Team has come across often. “It is very common that people develop mental health problems when they come to South Africa.”  

Many times, lack of preparedness, difficulties in adjusting to the new environment, the complexity of the local system, language difficulties, cultural disparities and adverse experiences would cause distress to migrants. Moreover, subsequently it has a negative impact on mental well-being of such population.” (Migration and Mental Health)  

This has been one of the reasons that Welfare, specifically Etienne, started the Men’s Development Group at Scalabrini. To help combat mental health problems by providing a safe space for men to express what they are going through, share in others experiences and to know that they are not alone. 

If you would like to find out more about the Men’s Development Group, you can send an email to