South Africa: This is Home – Stories of belonging and citizenship

Published: 21/Jun/2021
Source: Lawyers for Human Rights & Jesuit Refugee Service (South Africa)

To mark World Refugee Day and Youth Month, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), The Jesuit Institute of Southern Africa (JISA) and are embarking on a collaboration to celebrate the lives of young refugees living in our country. We are jointly running a five week long campaign documenting the lives youth born to refugees who are stateless or at risk of becoming stateless to showcase their inspiring lives.

Imagine having come to a country at a young age or having being born here and not being recognised as a citizen. You know no other people, no other city, no other languages than what you have learnt here.

There are serious gaps in the implementation of citizenship laws which has been exacerbated by the current closure of services at the Department of Home Affairs under COVID lockdown. Youth born in South Africa to parents who are asylum seekers and refugees find themselves stateless or at heightened risk of becoming stateless. Being stateless essentially means you are not recognised by any state. This is home for many people who know no other place, having either lived in South Africa from a young age or being born here whilst their legal status in the country is uncertain.

The majority of whom are unable to perform certain tasks critical to live and function as a human being, such as registering in institutions of higher learning, accessing banking services obtaining a drivers’ licenses and finding stable employment. This is largely as a result of DHA’s failure to process applications for citizenship by naturalisation and permanent residence by exemption. It is worth noting that LHR has submitted citizenship by naturalisation and exemption applications dating as far back as 2018.

This is not all: the closure of the citizenship section in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, has further exacerbated this delay. The consequences are detrimental in that young people born to refugees and asylum seekers are usually unregistered in their parents’ country of birth, being unregistered in South Africa places them at risk of statelessness.

Linked to this is the closure of the permanent residence visa section. This means that youth born to permanent residence holders who were previously refugees cannot apply to be linked as dependents on their parents’ file. Young people, being 18 years old and above, have until the age of 21 years to be dependents under their parents’ permanent residence files.

This closure further affects the youth that are eligible to apply for permanent residence by exemption based on special circumstances including those born outside South Africa, who arrived in the country whilst young and their parents have passed on. Many of these young people were placed in Child Youth Care Centres (CYCCs). Whilst there are no time limits to this application, they remain unable to exercise further rights and their lives are in limbo.

Another problematic practice by the DHA is the delinking of youth from their parent’s refugee and asylum files when they turn 18 years old. This is contrary to the spirit of family unity laid down in international refugee law. It strips the youth of protection because they cannot have standalone claims to apply for their own asylum and refugee permits. Leaving them vulnerable.

In line with Action 6 of the #ibelong campaign to eradicate statelessness by 2024, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees encourages government to grant protection status to stateless migrants and facilitate their naturalisation. It is with the above context in mind that the #ThisIsHome campaign will be calling for the following:

  • South Africa to ratify the 1954 UN Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
  • South Africa needs to adopt a National Action Plan to eradicate statelessness.
  • The Department of Home Affairs to provide outcomes on the already submitted permanent residence by exemption and citizenship by naturalisation application.
  • The Department of Home Affairs to reopen the permanent residence and citizenship sections of the department.
  • Special dispensation needs to be added as a legal avenue for vulnerable persons to document themselves particularly youth in CYCC who are at risk of statelessness.
  • The Department of Home Affairs to stop the practice of delinking the youth born to refugees and asylum seekers from their parents’ files.

Follow the #ThisIsHome for updates on the campaign on the listed organisations’ social media pages.


Themes: Acquisition by children, Birth Registration, Statelessness
Regions: South Africa
Year: 2021