When not dealing with the housing dispute, I spent the rest of my time working on asylum seeker appeals, as well as learning more about the ZSP and attending a meeting at the Cape Town Refugee Centre.
My introduction to ZSPs started with Tendai calling me over to her desk and telling me I should call Gigaba (that would be the Minister of Home Affairs) to find out why they aren’t giving the ZSP permits. But of course when we start this conversation I have no idea who she is talking about or what she is asking. I think that people forget that I know nothing about any of this stuff and sometimes they have to go back to beginning. After asking multiple questions I finally figured out we were talking about the minister of home affairs and about ZSPs, but I still wasn’t sure what those were. We were receiving several people who were claiming that they were told they could apply for the permit as long as they had a reference number, but then when they did so, they were all being rejected. Putting her off a bit on the calling the minister part, I decided that googling would be the better way to go. I mean, after all, I’m not sure the minister would really take my call…
The DZP system was implemented in 2010 (and had a narrow window for applications), in the wake of an influx of Zimbabweans to South Africa, to allow them to live and work in the country, though not technically considering them refugees. In 2014 the government decided it was switching over to a new program, ZSP, which would basically extend the permits for an additional three years. All of the information that I was able to find said that only people who had been granted a DZP in 2010 were eligible—those who were rejected at that time or those who never got a response were not. However, a number of people who came into the office told us they were told that if they had the reference number from the original application, then they could apply. When they filled in the information online, it accepted their application, as well as their payment of R870 but then they were rejected. Apparently, people were originally told that if they had a reference number they could apply, but the Ministry then decided that they would be automatically rejected. It doesn’t seem right that the applications will be accepted and the money taken, but that they won’t get the permit. Apparently in some other cities, legal action has started against the Department of Home Affairs, but nothing in Cape Town yet. So all we can really do is take copies of the rejections as they come in, put them in a file, and then once we have enough, see about bringing legal action. But the problem is that for now these applicants are left in legal limbo, and if stopped by the police they can be arrested and deported.
Last week also featured a field trip to the Cape Town Refugee Centre in Wynberg. The CTRC are launching a new project, Enhanced Civic Understanding and Engagement Project, and they invited representatives from a number of refugee groups as well as a number of NGOs (especially those dealing with refugee rights) for an information sharing meeting. The project proposal for civil education was written in 2012, but it sounds like they only recently got approval/funding from the EU. This is a pilot project which will be rolled out in two provinces over a two year period, and depending on its success and future funding could expand elsewhere. South Africa has a liberal refugee regime (and a liberal Constitution for that matter), with freedom of movement—refugees can live wherever they want here and their movements are not restricted (i.e. there are no refugee camps in South Africa). (They are allowed to travel anywhere except to the country from which they fled.) However, there is no comprehensive integration policy for refugees and asylum seekers, and this project was designed to fill that void by helping those individuals integrate into society. As it stands, they receive no information on how to access basic services (such as health care and education) or how to do basic things (like pay fines or apply for grants). The project’s goal is to simultaneously strengthen refugees’ participation in local level democratic processes, through civic education and enhance local government capacity for improving services in order to promote tolerance and social cohesion. To do this they plan on taking a three pronged approach—1) improving refugee knowledge and understanding of South Africa (by educating refugees about their rights and responsibilities and encouraging participation in their communities), 2) focusing on the local and provincial government (educating local government officials about refugee rights (of which many officials are ignorant) so that it is easier for refugees to access their rights and training government officials to improve service delivery), and 3) increasing participation of non-nationals at all levels of government (in an effort to create social cohesion).
While I think the idea of the project is a good one, I found the meeting to be only moderately informative. First, because this was just an introductory meeting, there was no information about how this would actually be implemented. Second, this proposal was drafted over three years ago, and it seemed like there wasn’t much flexibility in the grant to allow for changes with the times. And third, when it came time for the attendees to ask questions, most people brought up refugee issues in general, without focusing on what was intended by the grant or its limitations, so the discussion was largely irrelevant to the purpose of the meeting.