One Last Time

I am not ready. Talking to my mom on the phone a few minutes ago, I realized this time next week I will be gone from my little apartment in Greenmarket Square after what has felt like the shortest ten weeks of my life.

Fortunately, the LRC provided plenty of distractions so I do not have to think about my countdown to departure. I am currently working on two major projects: one to survey schools that serve intellectually disabled students in the Eastern Cape and another to help a client with his representation to the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs (SCRA).

The survey

Cape Town is located in the Western Cape, one of nine provinces in South Africa and is the second-largest contributor to the country's GDP. The Eastern Cape is its neighbor. In contrast to the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape is one of the poorest provinces. As you can then imagine, funding for education is not able to keep pace with the need - especially for funding special care centers that cater to intellectually disabled students. Another intern and I were tasked with calling these care centers to collect information about them. One of the challenges in doing this was explaining what the LRC is (I spent a good few minutes saying and spelling "legal" over and over again for one center's principal) and why we were calling from another province. Once over that hurdle, it was enlightening to hear how some of these centers function. Most do not have a landline. The principals' mobile phones are the centers' phone. None of the centers I contacted have WiFi. One woman is using a shack she built in her backyard to serve these students in her community.

With only a week left, I do not know if I will see much of how the data we collected will be used, but I am leaving them with a parting gift of sorts. I reformatted the survey before we began making calls to formalize the collection process and maximize its reusability for whoever comes next.

The representation

One of the things I will miss most about my experience at the LRC is meeting asylum seekers when they come in for a consultation. Most of the time, the kind of help they need is not something the LRC does, but I will find a resource that does. This week was different. The client is a gay asylum seeker from a country where homosexuality is illegal. He is now seeking refuge in South Africa, but his claim was rejected by the Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO). When this happens, the SCRA will review the decision to confirm it or set it aside. The asylum seeker has fourteen days from when the RSDO decided to make representations to be considered in the SCRA review. After consulting with a lawyer, I was given the opportunity to write the asylum seeker's representation on his behalf. The components of the representation include:

  1. Condonation: If the fourteen-day deadline is missed, you start the representation by explaining why the delay occurred and ask SCRA pardon its tardiness. In my case, and in many cases, the asylum seeker is not able to read or understand enough English to know what the notice that stipulates the fourteen days they receive along with their rejection means. The asylum seeker will sign it to acknowledge receipt but then take it home to find a community member to decipher its meaning.
  2. Personal details and reason for flight: You tell the SCRA the client's story. You want to include as much detail as possible to paint a picture of the asylum seeker's life in his/her home country and why conditions were such that he/she was compelled to flee. In my case, I talk about the asylum seekers experience after his community found out about his sexual orientation.
  3. Objective country analysis: Research, research, and research some more about how the conditions in the asylum-seeker's home country to educate the SCRA on why the situation necessitated flight. In this case, I provided information, including other people's stories, about persecutions and arrests that occur in the asylum-seeker's home country as well as the discrimination and violence perpetrated by the community, media, and leaders/government.
  4. The law: This is where the good old UN Convention language and South Africa's Refugee Law come in. You state on what grounds asylum is being sought and remind the SCRA about the burden of proof and the non-refoulement principle and how it pertains to the asylum seeker. The UN's published guidelines are very useful here to provide explanations for how claims should be reviewed by the decision-maker.
  5. Application of the law to the facts: Tie it all together in a nice, neat, concise bow to make it clear that the only logical decision is to grant the asylum seeker refugee recognition.

Once the representation is submitted, it will be delivered to the Refugee Reception Office to be included in the SCRA review.

After spending hours writing his representation, it is personally unsettling to start this process and not be able to finish it. I think about how the client only just started to open up to me on his second visit to the office when I needed to ask more questions to clarify details of his story. I had to ask very uncomfortable questions, I probably apologized every two minutes, but the information he has in his brain is too important for me to avoid the discomfort of having to extract it. What will happen to him?

It is a strange thing to think that in five short days, the work I started, but will not finish, will continue on by someone else. It is hard for me to let go of this work. Work I could never have predicted would come to matter so much to me. I am going to miss it dearly. But once again, I am getting ahead of myself. For one last time, I have a week of client consultations, Kamili coffees, workout classes at Zone Fitness, and the other delights of Cape Town city life to look forward to.