Week 5: New Adventures

Greetings from the beautiful Mother Cape!  This week surprisingly was not as busy as others, but equally as interesting.  On Thursday, PASSOP was scheduled to attend a meeting with Desmond Tutu, Patricia de Lille, the mayor of Cape Town, and officials from the Department of Home Affairs. Additionally, I assisted a client who brought an appeal neither I nor the attorneys in the office had written before, and another client who did not speak nor understand English.

 In our weekly Monday meeting, our director, Bernard, informed myself and the other interns that we should attend a meeting with city officials and local activists on xenophobia in South Africa and the treatment of refugees by the government and South Africans.  When we arrived to the meeting location, there were students, pastors, local news reporters, and surprisingly members of the Angolan executive branch present. Most of the attendees were worried about the treatment of refugees in South Africa—especially Cape Town, and wanted to listen to the mayor’s plan on combating xenophobia and potential laws and legislation that can be passed to help refugees as they transition to South Africa.  Other NGOs such as PASSOP and the Scalabrini Center wanted to hear from the Department of Home Affairs to understand why so many refugees are denied refuge in South Africa and most rejections do not detail specific claims of the client’s story.  Unfortunately, the mayor did not attend, Desmond Tutu’s representative did arrive, nor did any of the officials from the Department of Home Affairs.  There was wide spread disappointed amongst the crowd and I could feel the frustration in everyone’s tone as they aired several annoyances with missing work in hopes of hearing from and meeting such an important group of people.  Later, we were assured the officials would arrive by noon, so we waited for approximately four and a half hours, but to our dismay, no one arrived.  It was extremely disappointing to not only myself, but others who want to see change in the way refugee and asylum seekers are treated in Cape Town.  It is rumored that the Mayor Lille did not arrive because it’s her reelection period and it is best to not make any controversial remarks leading up to the election. Nevertheless, a stronger message must be sent to the public that refugee issues are important to the government and they want to help assist in any way they can.  Hopefully another meeting can be schedule to continue this important dialogue.   

 Moreover, during the week I was presented with a new challenge when a client needed an appeal from his resettlement application for the United States.  However, our office deals with rejection appeals strictly from the Department of Home affairs in South Africa.  Our client is a South African refugee from Somalia, and he believed that if he traveled to Cape Town, he would be safe from harm and the war in Somalia, but he was mistaken.  In the township where our client lives, there is intense hatred for Somali people and they are often met with violence or torture.  Several times our client has been shot, assaulted, and his home vandalized by South African citizens.  He knew Africa was no longer safe for him, because if he could avail himself of the protection of the South African government—theoretically the safest and most progressive country on the continent—then he had to leave Africa.  Our client applied for resettlement to the United States, but was denied.  For American resettlement, one cannot appeal, but they may submit a request for review (RFR); our office had never completed an RFR or any resettlement letter, but they assigned me the task of researching and drafting the RFR.  This was a seemingly difficult task because I did not have another document to base the letter off of, but between researching the requirements of a RFR and presenting new information from our client’s story, I felt as though he will hopefully be successful in receiving resettlement in the United States.

Finally, in the latter part of the week, another client came in from Somalia, but he did not speak English nor did he bring a friend of family member to translate for him.  It was extremely difficult trying to convey the message that I do not know the language he speaks, and the only way I could write his appeal was if he brought a translator.  The man left for a few hours and returned with a man he met to translate for him; and I later learned that the man did not have any family or friends in the area, coupled with not speaking English, it is difficult for him to get around the city, hold a job, and have interviews with Home Affairs.   There are days I take for granted the fact that the predominate language in Cape Town is English.  It must be terrifying fleeing one’s country and have to come to another country without your family, not knowing anyone, and then not being able to speak the same language.  Sometimes I never stop and think about trivial issues when I interact with clients.  We often see the larger issues such as housing or employment discrimination, but it is not often that I think about how or if many of the refugees are able to find a job because of the language barrier or if they have adequate housing because they may not have steady employment. 

This week, my friends and I tried a new Restaurant, Addis, which specializes in Ethiopian food, and it was amazing.  

I am beyond thankful to have the opportunity to work with PASSOP and live in Cape Town.  It has truly been a life changing experience, and I still have five weeks remaining!