Letters to the Editor March 2 to 8

Refugees cry out for help, Mr President

Dear President Ramaphosa,

I heard your call for “Thuma mina” in your State of the Nation address and I am writing to let you know that I am ready to lend a hand.

What stood out for me was your statement that South Africa belongs to all who live in it and your commitment to addressing poverty and creating jobs for our youth.

You spoke of a new dawn and recognised that sometimes we fail merely because we fail to implement our laws.

One glaring example of this is the treatment of refugees in South Africa, in particular refugee children. South Africa boasts one of the most robust and liberal constitutions in the world; at the very least, it should protect the dignity of everyone in South Africa, but sadly this is not the case. I have witnessed our laws fail those most vulnerable in society.


During my time as director of the Refugee Rights Clinic at the University of Cape Town, I have witnessed, at times with horror, the devastating effect of noncompliance with our laws on the lives of refugees and refugee children.

At the clinic, we provide free legal services to refugees, with the assistance of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. We provide a direct legal service to about 5 000 clients a year, and witness first hand refugees’ struggles to assert their basic human rights. In some cases, poor service delivery and a disregard for the law result in absurd situations.

Recently, a pair of grieving parents came to our office after the tragic loss of their infant child. After giving birth in a South African hospital, our clients were issued with a handwritten notice of birth. Despite the fact that the father held a valid asylum-seeker permit, the child was refused a birth certificate because the mother was an undocumented asylum seeker.

On many occasions we have pointed out to the department of home affairs that the notice of birth leads to a denial of rights. When this baby died, the cruelty and the inhumanity of the department’s recently introduced policies were exposed. The mortuary would not release the body of the child because the mother had no valid documents, and home affairs would not issue a death certificate because the child had no birth certificate. Imagine the suffering of the parents.

In the end, our offices had to threaten high court litigation to obtain relief for our clients. After engagement with home affairs, only the most senior person in the office would agree to issue a death certificate. This ordeal lasted 11 days. Only then was the tiny body of the baby finally put to rest.

It is important to engage with the complexity of this matter to understand the irrationality of these policies. The mother, an asylum seeker, is not an illegal immigrant. This tragic situation was a direct result of restrictive and systemically xenophobic practices introduced by home affairs. They have denied refugees access to the asylum system. They have ignored court orders to reopen refugee reception offices and provide essential services to asylum seekers and refugees.

Mr President, I appeal to you to address the lack of respect for binding court orders as a matter of urgency.

In December, eight Zimbabwean children, some as young as two, were arrested when their mothers tried to smuggle them into South Africa. The department of social development has held these children in custody for three months and is preventing them from seeing their parents. This department cannot, apparently, distinguish between trafficking and smuggling.

If it is determined that the parents are in South Africa illegally, unite them with their children and return them all to Zimbabwe. It is not in the best interest of these children to be kept in isolation and apart from their parents.

Our post-apartheid refugee laws have shown respect for the exiled and have recognised that the exiled do not cease to be human beings.

But recent years have seen the adoption of inhumane practices and laws by the department of home affairs.

In December, when we celebrated your victory at Nasrec, then-president Jacob Zuma signed into law the Refugees Amendment Act, which disregards the international laws on refugees and children that we have ratified. It also, in my opinion, disregards our Constitution.

Please, Mr President, help! — Dr Fatima Khan, director, Refugee Rights Clinic, University of Cape Town law faculty

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Public protector’s ‘mistakes’ were made to nail the president, court hears

Busisiwe Mkhwebane discarded facts that were inconvenient to her when she investigated the CR17 campaign, Cyril Ramaphosa’s lawyers argued

General Council of the Bar slams Zuma Foundation

Another summons has been served on Jacob Zuma at his Nkandla residence, requiring the former president to appear before the Zondo Commission next year

CR17 report is not perfect, but the investigation was rational, court hears

So says public protector Busisiwe Mkwhebane’s lawyer, who said she had reason to suspect the money was being laundered through the campaign

Zondo tightens his grip with criminal complaint against Zuma

The state capture commission’s star witness now faces a criminal complaint and another summons

The president, the preacher and the great escape

Malawi’s new president was furious after Shepherd Bushiri’s dramatic disappearance from South Africa
Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…