So far, I have been absolutely loving my internship with the Scalabrini Centre as their Advocacy Intern, where I’m serving thanks to InterExchange’s Christianson Fellowship. Our work at the Centre really runs the gamut, so I thought I’d give a little overview of what we do! The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town (SCCT) is a nonprofit organization based in Cape Town , South Africa. We work with refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants here in Cape Town. While I am an intern for the Advocacy Team (doing legal aid, research, and higher level advocacy) the Centre really tries to assist people in every aspect. Additionally there is Welfare to assist with social problems, the Employment Access Program (EAP), which aids in job skills development, and the English School.
What is the difference between an asylum-seeker and a refugee?
Under the South African Refugees Act, people fall into one of two categories: an asylum-seeker, or a refugee. An asylum-seeker is a person who has applied to the Government of South Africa to receive protection as a refugee. While an asylum claim is being decided (through a process of interviews) a person is considered to be under this first category. A refugee has been successful in receiving official recognition by the government as someone who fits the definition of needing international protection. The backlog often leaves people on the temporary asylum-seeker permits for years, even though the process is only supposed to take six months.
What are some issues that asylum-seekers and refugees face?
- Department of Home Affairs (DHA) access: Long queues and touch-and-go service at DHA often make it difficult for people to receive assistance for issues like renewing permits and family joining.
- Closure of the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (CTRRO): Home Affairs decided to close the CTRRO to new applications for asylum in July 2012. This has been an ongoing problem for refugees and asylum-seekers in Cape Town who were waiting for their family to arrive (for example, most of the time the male head of house will arrive alone and then send for his family). Cape Town has been a main destination for asylum-seekers in the country as it is an economic hub and has a long history of receiving refugees—some of our clients have been living as a refugee in Cape Town for 20-some years!
- Xenophobia: While I could dedicate an entire post to this topic, discrimination comes in all forms: employment, social, and cultural. There are many negative attitudes and perceptions about foreign, low-skilled workers in South Africa. They are often the target of looting, theft, and physical and verbal assault.
What does the Advocacy team at Scalabrini do?
We do legal aid work assisting with documentation and permit issues, but we also advocate on a higher level to ensure the equal rights and treatment of all asylum-seekers and migrants. For example, Scalabrini took Home Affairs to court over the closure of the CTRRO last year!