South Africa: ‘I feel I belong because this is where I was born’

Published: 24/Jun/2021
Source: New Frame (Johannesburg)

They are the children of refugees who have become permanent residents. Yet they continue to struggle for official acknowledgement and a more secure status.

By: Jan Bornman

Despite being born in South Africa, 23-year-old Ali* has no idea what it feels like to enjoy the rights granted to South African citizens.

Ali was born to Congolese refugee parents who met in Johannesburg. His father now has permanent residence but his mother still uses a refugee permit and awaits her own permanent residence identity document. Ali and three of his four siblings are linked to their mother’s refugee status.

Registered as an international student at the University of Johannesburg, where he is pursuing a diploma in sports management, Ali cannot apply for citizenship by naturalisation because his parents have permanent residence. But he cannot be deemed a dependent on his parents’ permanent residence permit because he is over the age of 21. Ali risks statelessness in the country where he was born.

“To be honest, growing up I’ve always considered myself to be South African. I can’t even speak French. I can only understand Swahili, but I can’t speak it. I’ve never even been outside of Gauteng,” Ali said, sitting on a bed in the small room he shares with his parents and siblings.

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Themes: Acquisition by children, Naturalisation and Marriage, Nationality and Refugees
Regions: South Africa
Year: 2021