Source: International IDEA
Refugees have the potential to make an impact on the political life of both their host countries and their countries of origin, as they often maintain transnational links with their homelands while at the same time becoming part of their host society.
Drawing on individual perspectives of Congolese refugees in South Africa, this case study explores the formal and non-formal political participation of refugees and asylum seekers in their host country and the ways in which they are able to participate in peacebuilding and democracy-building in their countries of origin.
Among the formal mechanisms for political participation, the case study explores issues of access to citizenship in the host country, electoral rights in both the host country and countries of origin, and membership or other forms of support to political parties. In addition, it examines non-formal mechanisms for political participation, including refugees’ participation in consultative bodies, civil society organizations, protests and grassroots initiatives, and other means of transnational political activism.
This case study is part of the Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Democracy project and has informed the development of a longer report, Political Participation of Refugees: Bridging the Gaps, published by International IDEA in 2018.
Download South Africa report from International IDEA: https://www.idea.int/publications/catalogue/political-participation-refugees-case-congolese-refugees-south-africa?lang=en
Provided that they meet the criteria, refugees can access the right to vote by following the relevant procedures to become a South African Citizen (Chennells 2015). According to section 7 of the Refugee Act, refugees can apply for a permanent residence permit after five years of continuous residence in South Africa from the date they were granted asylum, provided that they have certification from the SCRA. This certification confirms that, based on several mitigating factors, including the continuing negative political and security situation in their country of origin, the applicant is likely to remain a refugee for an indefinite period. This certification in many ways entitles refugees to local integration as a durable solution.
The regulations contained within the Refugee Act give the SCRA discretion to grant certification at the same time as refugee status is granted. The regulations also make the possibility of certification a key consideration in the decision to renew the refugee permit every two years. When initiated by the applicant, an application for certification must be submitted to the RRO where the refugee initially applied for asylum. Once issued, the certification can be used to apply for permanent residence. Once they have been certified and their permanent residence application has been successful, a person can only apply for naturalization once they have held a Permanent Residence Permit for 10 years, and fulfilled other criteria as specified in the Citizenship Act (1995). Acquiring citizenship by naturalization is considered a privilege not a legal right. The minister may therefore refuse an application even if the applicant meets the criteria (Isaacson 2008). A less researched phenomenon, however, is that some male refugees are marrying South African women as a way to gain citizenship and enhance their chances of integration into South Africa (Kenge 2017: 6)
In a presentation to parliament, the DHA reported that 2,104 new applications for certification were filed in 2015, and 2,237 applications had been considered, including pending submissions from previous years (Parliamentary Monitoring Group 2016). Of the applications considered, 684 were granted and 681 denied. Some applications resulted in the withdrawal of refugee status.