12 September 2017

South Africa: Refugee Children Miss School to Renew Asylum Permits

Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro/GroundUp
People queuing at the Desmond Tutu Refugee Centre in Pretoria to renew their asylum-seeking papers.

Chido, Esther and Irvin, aged 12, ten and six respectively, are missing school. Instead of going to class they are queuing at the Desmond Tutu Refugee Centre in Pretoria to renew their asylum-seeking papers.

"I grew up in these long queues, coming to get our asylum papers," says Chido. Her family is originally from Zimbabwe but Chido was born in South Africa. To date her family has not yet been granted refugee status.

She says they usually arrive at the centre as early as 4am. Sometimes they have to come back to get their papers processed. This might mean missing school for days.

Esther, who is in grade 4 at a school in Pretoria North, says she has missed exams before because she had to be at the center to renew her papers.

Irvin, who is in grade 2, says, "My mom says I should be strong, but my feet always hurt from standing in the long queues. I'm always sad when we have to come back here."

"There is nothing we can do because we need the permits for school. My mom is afraid that we might get arrested if we do not renew our permits," says a young Ghanaian national in the queue.

"At school they need these papers or else they will chase me away," says a grade 6 learner who attends school in Orlando.

"Home affairs laws should make life easier for our children," says Ditto, a Somali national who only gave her first name. She has to bring her two toddlers, aged two and three.

"I hope my refugee status will be approved before my children start school," she says. "I don't want them to miss classes coming to the center."

Spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs David Hlabane said refugee children are accorded their parents' status. This, he said, is valid for four years and they are expected to return with their parents 90 days before their permit expires.

But while Hlabane's claim is true for people granted refugee status, it is not the case for people renewing their asylum status. People not awarded refugee status have to renew their asylum-seeking permits every one to three months.

In the long queue are small children, restless and bored, some crying and screaming. Some asylum seekers journey long distances and traveling with small children adds to the hardship.

"Maybe a small playground should be set up to keep our children entertained," suggests Ditto.

Some asylum seekers in the queue suggest that Home Affairs should only require small children to present themselves on the first application and not have to return for renewals. Others suggest school children be allowed to renew their asylum papers during school holidays.

Hlabane said, "Home Affairs is not aware of refugee children waiting in queues to renew refugee permits. Please assist in establishing at which Refugee Reception Office this happens in order to allow us to look into the matter."

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