I began my first day of work by trying to find it! It was certainly an adventure! Our hostel staff recommend that I go by mini-bus, a taxi van that run up and down Main Road. They were quite intimidating at first, because the drivers try to fill their vans with riders before moving to their next stop by whistling and shouting at anyone and everyone walking down the sidewalk. They also, as I said, try to fill the entire van with people, which becomes quite cozy, and probably not entirely safe. There are no seat belts, and sometime to give people a seat, they put a pad in between two other seats, or have passengers sit on upside down milk crates. However, the fare is quite reasonable. It costs me only 8 Rand each way, which is about 80 cents. They also dropped me off right next to my street in Wynberg.
I arrived a few minutes before nine, but no one had arrived yet. I must have been a strange sight in my black suit just standing outside the barred door. A few minutes later, I was joined by some refugees who wanted to be first in line for assistance. Then a smiling transgender lady approached me an introduced herself. I later learned that she cleans for PASSOP and helps in reception because of her support for PASSOP’s special LGBTI rights project. Finally, my supervisor and the project manager of PASSOP’s paralegal program, Bernard arrived. He explained that Tendai, the administrative coordinator and only person with keys, was running late on the train due to a breakdown. About half an hour later, Tendai finally arrived and we were able to start our day.
Tendai first showed me how to create a newcomer letter. Unfortunately, Home Affairs, the department that processes asylum applications, has closed their new comer department here in Cape Town. This means that they only process appeals and take no new asylum applications. Refugees are forced to start their applications in Durbin, Musina, or Pretoria. These cities are quite far from Cape Town and it is often too expensive for the refugees to travel there right away. Therefore, we provide these newcomers with a letter that says that these refugees tried to apply here, but were denied due to the closing of the Cape Town department and will travel to Durbin, Musina, or Pretoria as soon as they are able. They can show this letter to the authorities should they ever be questioned about their status.
After a couple of hours of writing newcomer letters, I was summoned to Thistles, the café across the street to meet with Brahm, the director of PASSOP, and the other two interns, Shanyn and April. They were working on a fundraiser event for Perceive, or Percy (also called Susan Forgives by the media), the founder of PASSOP’s Gender Rights project. Two years ago, Percy was attacked by two unknown assailants one day as she was walking home. They threw acid at her, which burned the right half of her face. She has undergone nine surgeries so far to repair the damage, which included the reconstruction of her right ear and her eyelid, and several skin grafts. Brahm was furiously trying to find a venue at the University of Cape Town (UCT), because the fundraiser was to take place the following night. He had already invited the Deputy President of the university, the Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffery, and several members of the media and needed to provide them with a location as soon as possible. After a couple of hours and a cup of coffee, Brahm delegated a few tasks to the other interns. Then, he conducted an interview of sorts with me. He asked me about my background and my future career aspirations. He concluded that he would keep me with the paralegal team (as I was hoping), but said that he would sometimes use myself and the other interns for help with side projects like this fundraiser. He explained that the government, and Home Affairs specifically, tends to have a policy of denying most asylum applications as “unfounded” even though many people have left countries that are very dangerous or deeply impoverished. He explained that PASSOP’s philosophy is to fight for everyone seeking asylum, even if they are not good candidates. I do not know if I agree with this policy, as some applicants might not actually have recognized reasons for asylum. For example, in the U.S. if someone is just seeking more opportunity and not fleeing for political or religious reasons, or if they have a criminal background they would be denied. However, I am trying to keep an open mind! I am sure I will learn more about the South African appeals process when I start assisting with the appeals process. Before sending me back to the office to continue to learn about the appeals process with Bernard, Brahm also asked me to come to the fundraiser and bring others if I could.
The rest of my day was spent working on newcomer letters and meeting the rest of the PASSOP team. I met Koko, the head of PASSOP’s LGBTI Advocacy Project. He is originally from the DRC, and is very passionate about advocating for the rights of the LGBTI refugee community in South Africa. He spends most of his time at PASSOP helping LGBTI refugees avoid deportation to countries where they could be persecuted for their sexual orientation. I also met Anthony, who is originally from Zimbabwe. He is married and has four kids, the youngest of which is only 2 months old. He spends many sleepless nights up with the baby because he is getting his master’s at UCT and has to study at night so he can work at PASSOP and go to class during the day. Finally, I got to meet Percy, the woman for whom Brahm was organizing the fundraiser. She is the happiest, more positive person I have ever met. I would later notice that she is always smiling and cheerful and feels that PASSOP is her family. One day, she even introduced me as her “cousin” and Bernard as her “uncle” to a new intern. Because of the attack against her, she was inspired to start the Gender Rights Project at PASSOP. I am very much looking forward to attending her fundraiser tomorrow night!
Below is PASSOP's logo. At first it appeared almost mob-like and intimadating to me, but I have learned that people assembled together with their fists in the air is quite common in many types of protests in South Africa, even in the most peaceful of assemblies. It is not intended to reflect violence, but solidarity.