As I began week two, I felt much more comfortable speaking with clients and writing various appeals, yet listening to our client’s stories of murder, torture, and abuse remains a difficult task. I began to understand the importance of the work we do each day; for many refugees, their initial appeals will be denied, and our clients rely on us to advocate on their behalf. This week I worked on numerous appeals, but the ones I found most interesting were appeals regarding a right to education, right to maintain employment, and an appeal to remain in the country after being denied permanent residency in South Africa.
During our weekly Monday meetings, Bernard, our director, informed us that a mother of a high school student needed our assistance as her son has been denied his right to complete final exams because the school administration claims that under his mother’s Section 22 Asylum Seeker Permit, the son is not afforded the right to attend school. Later that day, as I interviewed the mother, she explained that her son is a senior in high school and if he cannot complete his examinations this week, he will not be able to graduate high school. His mother further explained that her son has attended the same school since he was in eighth grade, and has never had problems until now. Moreover, the school administrators would not allow the student on the premises because they reiterated, he was not allowed to be there due to his status in South Africa. Before coming to PASSOP, his mother, pleaded with and begged the school to allow her son to finish his course work as he is an exceptional student with goals of attending University, but the school declined her plea. PASSOP was her last option. As I researched the rights of permit holders, the second section of the permit clearly stated that with this permit [Section 22] the holder is entitled to work and study with the full rights of a South African citizen. The school illegally denied this student his right to education, but with the assistance of PASSOP, her son was able to complete his exams and graduate from high school.
Working with PASSOP, one quickly learns that the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) creates issues for almost all clients, whether citizen or refugee/asylum seeker. In our case, the Department is where clients extend or apply for their permit or refugee status. For the past two weeks, the Cape Town DHA location was closed due to technical issues, and would not assist customers. It is reported that for each week DHA is closed, there are approximately 650-700 people who are not able to extend their permit date, to no fault of their own.
Later in the week, I met with a client who was on the verge of losing his job because his permit expired a few days prior, but because of DHA being closed, he was not able to extend his permit. He entered the office panicked, explaining that he must keep his job because he is the sole provider for his family. As we concluded our interview, I told him to return tomorrow afternoon, but the client insisted that I finish the letter in 30 minutes, so he could provide his employer with proof of legal status. To his request, I scurried to the computer and quickly began researching DHA and past extended closings. Unfortunately, I do not know the outcome of his letter, but I assume that since he did not return, all is well, and he retained employment.
Finally, I ended the week with a client who has resided in Cape town for 12 years, completed University in Cape Town, and has a South Africa born son, yet was denied permanent residency. Once an applicant is denied permanent residency, unless she/he appeals, they must leave the country immediately. Since he was denied permanent residency, the best option was to apply for indefinite refugee status, which would classify him as a refugee, but not the hassle of renewing his status every cycle. This case interested me because although he resided in Cape Town for over a decade, received several advanced degrees, and has a young son, the government still denied him residency. There are many instances where the government does not fully read clients appeals or find a minute issue with their interview and deny them and reply with a generic response that does not refer to any specific reason that alludes to the clients personally. In regards to this client, it is highly unlikely he will hear back from DHA within the next two months, but I sincerely hope he is granted status.
On a lighter, more social note, during the first two weeks of June, Cape Town hosted a film festivals featuring a wide variety of films. One of the films that seemed particularly interesting was entitled Opening Stellenbosch, which is a documentary following a group of black students at Stellenbosch University who tirelessly worked to combat the oppressive nature of the University, where remnants of apartheid remained. One of the main focuses of the students was to ensure that all classes were taught in English; although many courses were advertised as being taught in English, faculty taught them in Afrikaans instead catering to the majority white student population. As a result of the classes being taught in Afrikaans, many black students failed classes since they were learning Afrikaans in addition to the subject matter. Within the country, all students speak English, but not Afrikaans, yet the administration refused to make it mandatory for all classes to be taught in English. The documentary was eye opening and watching the passion from such a young group of students was inspiring. Afterwards, a few friends and I spoke with the students and they spoke about the violent backlash they received from white students, the possibility of expulsion by administration, and the various pending law suits as a result of their demonstrations and protests.