/ 1 December 2009

Day 7: HOW TO: know your rights as a refugee

How can you practically empower yourself, or the women and children you know, during this year’s 16 days of Activism? The Mail & Guardian‘s “HOW TO” guide will tackle a different area each day, including suing for maintenance, applying for a social grant and getting an interdict against an abusive partner.

Refugee and asylum seeker rights:

Under the Constitution refugees and asylum seekers, particularly children, are afforded the same rights and protection available to citizens.

The first step
As soon as possible after arriving in South Africa potential refugees must register for an “Application for Asylum” at one of the Refugee Reception Offices located in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg. The application process includes completing forms and the taking of fingerprints and photographs. The process is free, but applicants are required to provide personal information

After this process, applicants are provided with a Section 22 Permit or “Asylum Seeker Permit”, which proves that they are legally in the country. If an application is successful, this will be upgraded to a Section 24 permit, which can be used to apply for various forms of social assistance.

The Constitution guarantees that everyone has the right to basic education (“basic” meaning until age 15 or Grade 9). This includes Asylum Seekers and Refugees.

To register your child for education you will need:

  • A completed school application form;
  • ?Proof from a public clinic or hospital in South Africa that your child is immunised against dread diseases;
  • A school report or transfer card from the last public or state school or public or state adult training centre;
  • A Section 22 or 24 permit or a Letter of Recognition issued by the Department of Home Affairs.

In the event of a child not having a permit, the parent can use their documents to provide proof of their legal status. The parent should then register the child with the Department of Home Affairs and get papers for the child to avoid being barred from schools.

Payment of school fees, registration fees, deposits on school fees, taking of aptitude tests and uniforms are not conditions for registration at South African state schools. If you are struggling to pay school fees then you can apply for exemption, by obtaining the forms from the school’s offices.

Every person in South Africa has the right to access healthcare and no documents are required to see a health worker or to receive emergency treatment at a state hospital or clinic. Not all health workers know about this important right so if you face problems you must ask to see the manager of the clinic or hospital. The Department of Health has issued an important circular to clinics and hospitals instructing them to treat foreign nationals. This includes providing them with access to HIV and Aids treatment.

Social Assistance
As a recognised refugee with a Section 24 permit one can apply for a few grants at any South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) office. Contact Sassa for more information. Obtaining the various grants follow similar processes, one of which is outlined below.

  1. Foster Child Grant and Care Dependency Grant
    If you look after children who are not your own biologically, you can apply for a Foster Child Grant. The nationality of the children you are caring for does not matter and there is no means test for this grant. The grant is R680,00 a month. If the foster child you are caring for is severely disabled and needs full-time care, you can also apply for a Care Dependency Grant.
  2. Social Relief of Distress (SRD)
    If you are unable to support yourself and your dependants’ basic needs and require immediate temporary assistance, you can apply for Social Relief of Distress. It is normally issued as a food parcel but can also be issued as a voucher or a cash payment.
  3. Disability grant
    Adults who are unable to work because of a mental or physical disability and are in need of financial support can get a monthly disability grant. Applicants should contact their local Sassa offices for details on the application process.

To qualify, you must:

  • Be a permanent resident or refugee and living in South Africa at the time of application;
  • Be between 18 and 59 years if you are female or 18 and 61 years if you are male;
  • Not be cared for in a state institution;
  • Have a 13-digit, bar-coded identity document (ID);
  • Not earn more than R29 112 if you are single or R58 224 if married. Your assets must not be worth more than R484  800 if you are single or R969 600 if you are married;
  • Undergo a medical examination where a doctor appointed by the state will assess the degree of your disability; and
  • Bring along any previous medical records and reports, when you make the application and when the assessment is done.

The doctor will complete a medical report and will forward the report to Sassa.

Even before the you have received a Section 22 or 24 permit relating to your asylum application or refugee status, you have labour rights in South Africa. Any employment contract or relationship you enter will be legally recognised.

The basic conditions of employment apply and you should be paid a minimum wage. It is not a valid reason for your employer to fire you because your permit papers have expired.

South African labour regulations do, however, place a number of restrictions on foreign nationals, including the need to advertise widely for the position before hiring a foreign national in some occupations. In other occupations, there is a need to register with the particular practitioners’ council before one can obtain work in that profession and so this endorsed visitor’s permit is not well-suited for skilled labour as it is only a short-term permit.

Useful contacts

  • South African Social Security Agency (Sassa)
    0800 601 011
  • Department of Home affairs
    0800 601 190
  • Department of Labour
    012 309 4000

Read the daily “HOW TO” guides so far here

View more on our special report on 16 days of activism here..