‘The road to documentation’ Report Launched

PASSOP REPORT LAUNCH ON ASYLUM-SEEKERS’ ACCESS TO THE CAPE TOWN REFUGEE RECEPTION CENTRE

AND RESULTING IMPLICATIONS OF AMENDMENTS TO  THE IMMIGRATION ACT.

PASSOP has launched its monitoring report “The Road to Documentation: Asylum Seekers’ Access to the Cape Town Refugee Reception Centre” (can be downloaded here) which exposes the unfair treatment of asylum-seekers attempting to legalise themselves at the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office in Maitland. The report exposes that in two weeks over 1600 people were turned away unassisted, several people were physically abused and asylum seekers were left without toilets for over a month.  The number of people left unassisted is of particular concern in light of the new amendments to the immigration act which allow for jail terms for undocumented immigrants and that provide only 5 days for asylum seekers to apply for Asylum.

The report launch included a discussion chaired by Braam Hanekom, the monitoring Project Manager, Alaina Varvaloucas, and monitors Stanford Hove and Kumbirai Bvuna. Members of the press and other interested parties attended.

Background:

In the past few months, Parliament has passed several major changes to the Immigration Act of 2002, two of which PASSOP believes will significantly affect asylum-seekers. The first is reducing the asylum transit permit, a 14-day permit, which allows asylum-seekers to enter South Africa provided they report to a Refugee Reception Office (RRO) within the allotted 14 days, to 5 days. The second is instituting jail sentences of 2.5-4 years for undocumented migrants and for those caught aiding or knowingly employing undocumented migrants. Since refugee reception centres around South Africa operate at an under-capacity, many new asylum-seekers are not able to successfully get access to an RRO’s services within 14 days, and many more go undocumented because they are consistently turned away from centres and refused documents. Reducing the asylum transit permit—often referred to as a border pass—to 5 days will thus be to the detriment of thousands more asylum-seekers, and mandating that an undocumented migrant be jailed with criminals for several years, especially when that migrant may be undocumented through no fault of his or her own, is a cruel overreaction.

To assess ease of access to documentation at the Cape Town RRO, PASSOP monitors surveyed every person coming out of the Cape Town centre during all opening hours for two weeks. In total, 1,659 people were refused service for various reasons, including: a lack of supplies and paper, employees not coming to work, missing or expired transit visas, queues being too long, and others. Three major and several minor violent incidents of guards attacking people in the queue were recorded, as well as multiple instances of corruption. The report finds that due to the RRO’s inability to serve asylum-seekers in an efficient, consistent, and courteous manner, the situation at the Cape Town centre will only become worse when DHA officials begin implementing the new amendments to the Immigration Act. If the new amendments are to be fair policies, the Cape Town centre, as well as the other five centres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Musina, Durban, and Port Elizabeth, must drastically improve its service delivery.

Opinion Piece – A Snapshot of Life in Zimbabwe

If you have the capital to start something and even a slight entrepreneurial inkling, Zimbabwe is where you should be. If you are greedy and have little conscience, your chances at success and obscene wealth are even better.  It is a country with unbelievable potential and with so much having been divested over the last decade, the opportunity for investment is ripe.  Unfortunately if you are a government employed teacher, nurse or other low ranking civil servant the picture isn’t so pretty.  You are looking at US$200 a month in a unique economy that is based on the US$ and where the cost of living rivals that of a developed or typical US city.welcome-to-zimbabwe

How can the teachers possibly survive on so little?  First of all, it should be said that even this is a lot more than what they were receiving in 2008; secondly almost every old teacher of mine that I spoke to has something else “on the side”. Whether it is tutoring wealthier children or buying and selling an imported commodity they are able to obtain; this instinct and stubborn determination to live is a testament to the spirit of the Zimbabwean people.  These civil servants and others alike, who continue to struggle to survive just so that they may carry on providing such valuable service, keep the light burning at the end of the tunnel.  The men and women who earn a meagre salary; the gardeners, street cleaners, maids, supermarket attendants, electricians, plumbers, labourers all continue to persevere, they find a way to survive, in fact they do more than survive; they live.  Meanwhile in this parallel universe there exists a minority, which is by no means uni-racial, it is a multi-racial upper class that has managed to profit and benefit in ways that your “average Joe” from anywhere in the world would struggle to fathom.  These people have used their political or financial status to benefit themselves and those in their immediate circle.  This creates an incredible dichotomy that exists somehow in unison.

As a Zimbabwean who has been away for 6 years, I look and see so many wrongs that could easily be made right, but the basis for my judgment is Zimbabwe in 2004, which in the grand scheme of the last 10 years, was far from the lowest point.  It is 2008 that the people who have never left use as a measure.  A time when Cholera was taking thousands of lives a week, when there were a total of 128 teaching days throughout the year, when the sanitation department ceased to function and the doctors and nurses were out in search of their next meal and simply were not able to treat or teach.  So when one looks at Zimbabwe today in comparison with the Zimbabwe of 2008, one can see where the optimism comes from.  One can begin to see that, while the journey is going to be long and tough, Zimbabwe is beginning to climb out of a very dark decade in her young history.

I once benefited from these services that, if still available today, are not of the same standard that they were in the late 1990’s; so I am resisting to be too optimistic so soon.  Yes, I believe that since 2008 there have been positive developments in the political and certainly in the economic arena, but I am hesitant still to talk of our transition back to the Jewel that we once were.  Having met and interacted with many Zimbabweans around the world and those at home, in Zimbabwe, there is valid reason for hope.  It is the people of Zimbabwe are what keep this hope alive.  I think that perhaps  Zimbabwe is on the verge of a transition period and is ready for the people to take back what is theirs, to utilize the skills and knowledge their home country and the other host countries provided them, and rebuild and develop Zimbabwe.  But that unfortunately remains to be seen in the coming years, whether this is the beginning of the new Zimbabwe or just another carrot to keep the donkey walking.

I am a see-saw of optimism and pessimism.  Zimbabweans from the diaspora are investing and assisting “back home”.  I see the herculean efforts of those committed to making the best of a tough situation.  I take heart that a few of those who have grown excessively wealthy plough back into their old schools and communities.  These all give me seeds of hope. I want so badly to be optimistic; having been back and seen everything running as close to normal as is possible in such difficult circumstances; but when I remember that all of this optimism is dependant on a stable and open political system, I become a little dejected.  I truly believe that better things are to come for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans, but this will not come until there is a legitimate, free and fair political platform upon which the rights of the people are heard, protected and fought for.

Doug Leresche

PASSOP Volunteer

Prince Edward High School, Harare, Zimbabwe 2004

CUNY Queens College, Queens, New York 2010

GUIDELINES AND INFORMATION FOR ZDP APPEALS

Mother and children waiting in long ZDP queue

Mother and children waiting in long ZDP queue in Wynberg

PASSOP has opened a ZDP Appeals Desk to assist Zimbabweans who applied for work permits/ study permits/business permits. We are monitoring the collection of permits at the Department of Home Affairs Regional Offices at Wynberg to assist with the problems faced by Zimbabweans who applied for these permits. If you are one of the Zimbabweans that applied for a permit under the ZDP, please read the following information and guidelines. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any issues or questions.

ZDP APPEALS GUIDELINES

IMPORTANT NOTE: If your permit application under the ZDP is currently pending, you have the full right to work, study and have access to basic health care in South Africa. If your employer, your child’s school, or hospital is refuting this, our office can provide you with a letter that confirms the above to be true.

APPEALS PROCESS

  • If you receive a second SMS from the Department of Home Affairs, wait at least 5 working days and then go to the Home Affairs Department offices where you applied to collect your results.  There is currently a backlog so your results may not be ready until after the 5 working day period.
  • When you are going to collect your results, make sure you bring your original passport.
  • After you collect your results and your application is rejected, ask for a rejection letter from the Home Affairs officials before you leave. The rejection letter will tell you the reason why your application was rejected.
  • When you have a rejection letter, you have to draft an appeal letter addressed to the Director General of the Department of Home Affairs.
  • Depending on the reason for the decision to reject your application, you may be required to provide additional information together with your letter of appeal to the Department of Home Affairs.
  • Submit the letter of appeal within 10 working days of receiving the outcome.

PENDING APPLICATIONS

If your work permit application is still pending, and if you are having problems with your employer or bank:

  • Come to PASSOP to get a ‘right to work’/’right to health/ ‘right to education’ or bank letter.

IF THE PERMIT IS VALID FOR LESS THAN 4 YEARS

  • Bring a copy of passport with the permit.
  • If your permit was put on an old or expired passport while you now have a new passport, bring both copies of both the old and new passport
  • Write  a letter to the Director General  in the Department of Home Affairs requesting for an extension  of the permit deadline to 4 years or transfer of the permit to a new passport. (We can assist with writing this letter.)
  • After such a letter has been sent to the Director General one should expect a reply after 6 weeks for the reply from the Department of Home Affairs.

GENERAL INFORMATION

  • If you have lost the SIM card you used when you applied, do a sim-swap as soon as possible so that the Department of Home Affairs is able to communicate with you concerning the outcome of your permit application.
  • The first SMS sent by Home Affairs acknowledging reception of your application contains a reference number. Please ensure that you write down this number somewhere safe in the event that your telephone or SIM card is lost or stolen.
  • Please ensure that you keep your application receipt safe.
  • If your fingerprints have not yet been taken, wait for an SMS from the Department of Home Affairs.
  • In the case that your permit is missing at the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Home Affairs is responsible for issuing you with a new work permit. PASSOP can assist you in drafting a letter to the Director General requesting for a replacement. You must also bring a copy of your passport, permit application receipt and letter from your employer.

HOW PASSOP CAN HELP

  • Drafting appeal letters
  • Drafting request for extension letters/request for replacement permit letters etc
  • Draft ‘right to work’/’right to education’/’right to health’ or access to bank letters for clients

IMPORTANT CONTACTS

PASSOP Office in Wynberg: 021 820 4664

Home Affairs Pretoria- 012 810 7322

Department of Home Affairs (Toll Free)- 0800 2044 76

Home Affairs Wynberg- 021 763 6400/03

PASSOP to Launch Gay Refugee Program

gay refugee programIn light of the increasing number of “sexual refugees” in this country, PASSOP is pleased to announce a new program that will bring disenfranchised gay and transgender refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants together by building a support network.

Homophobia is a serious issue all across Africa. In many countries, LGBTI people face harsh punishments ranging from fines and imprisonments to death, solely for expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity.  This unjust reality has led to an influx of sexual refugees, especially in South Africa, one of the few countries in the world that grants refugee status on the basis of sexual orientation. Despite South Africa’s official position, the asylum application process is fraught with problems and many LGBTI people are turned away unjustly. Moreover, those who are granted status still often face discrimination and harassment in their new communities in South Africa. When xenophobia is compounded with homophobia, it leaves many gay and transgender people in conditions not unlike those in the countries they fled in the first place.

Recognizing the vulnerability of their particular situation, PASSOP is launching a program that will provide support and advocacy for this social group. This project will include a solidarity network to unite LGBTI refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants and provide them with outlets for emotional support and counseling. In partnership with other LGBTI rights organizations, PASSOP will also promote advocacy within their communities to ensure their safety and integration.

In addition to this solidarity network, the new project will monitor the South African government to ensure that it is true to its commitment to sexual refugees. Through paralegal support, workshops and community organizing, the program will empower these refugees and asylum seekers to engage in gay refugee rights activism and ensure that South Africa lives out its constitutional protection for the rights of gay men and women.

Through this program, PASSOP wishes to join in the efforts of many other organizations dedicated to LGBTI rights in South Africa. Though the issue is massive, PASSOP hopes that this will provide a step in the right direction.

If you have any questions or concerns or if you would like to participate in this new program, please contact office@passop.co.za.

PASSOP office damaged in Masiphumelele fire

On the night of May 2nd a massive fire swept through Masiphumelele township. It started just after midnight and grew rapidly as the strong wind fuelled it. Firemen were only able to contain it six hours later.  When the sun rose, almost 1500 shacks had been burnt to the ground – around 4000 people displaced.

Damaged Help Desk in Masiphumelele

The damage to PASSOP's Help Desk Office

The fire moved with such speed that many residents had hardly any time to pack their belongings before they were forced to flee their homes. It is a miracle that only one person has died.

The PASSOP help desk office, which was intentionally located in the heart of the township in order to foster close community ties and real ownership of the project, was also badly damaged by the fire. Our neighbours and volunteers poured water on our office for hours in the middle of the night to try to save as much as they could. We are humbled and proud of their commitment to PASSOP and feel touched to have been welcomed into the community to such an extent.

The majority of the shacks around the PASSOP office are completely burned down. Although the Disaster Management Department of the Provincial Government is providing food and some materials to rebuild the homes, most people have lost the majority of their household items. We want to help the community as much as we can in these hard times, so we are calling on the public to donate whatever second hand items (clothes, furniture, appliances, etc.) they can spare.

If you have any second hand items to donate, please drop these off at our Wynberg office at 37 Church Street.

If you are willing to donate money to the cause of rebuilding the homes in Masiphumelele, you can donate to the following account:

Account Name: PASSOP

Bank: Nedbank

Account Type: Current

Account #: 1048074730

Branch Code: 104809, Rondebosch

Please make the reference for such donations ‘Fire victims’.