Celebration for asylum seekers and special permit holders in South Africa

AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER

THOUSANDS of asylum seekers and special permit holders stuck in South Africa during the COVID-19 lockdown have a special reason to celebrate World Refugee Day – they can now apply for the R350 temporary social relief grant offered by the South African government.

The access to the social relief funds follows a victory in court this week by the Scalabrini Centre, a non-governmental organisation representing asylum seekers and special permit holders. 

The Scalabrini Center, which provides specialised services for refugee, migrant and South African communities, took the South African government to court to ensure that  some of South Africa’s asylum-seekers and special-permit holders will be able to apply for the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant.

The Gauteng North High Court ruled in the favour of the asylum seekers.

“Applicants for the grant, just like any other persons, are still subject to South African Social Security Agency’s eligibility criteria – they cannot be receiving an income, any other form of grant, or any economic relief from UIF.

Photo: Miriam Deadato

“People who hold asylum-seeker and special permit status in South Africa, whose documents were valid at the start of the National State of Disaster will be able to apply for the SRD grant. Applicants will need to provide their documents, as issued by the South African government,” the Scalabrini Centre said in a statement.

The Centre clarified that as claims for May have already concluded, asylum seekers and permit holders affected by the court order would be entitled to claim from June onwards.

The South African Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu  was ordered by the court to publish the changes to the  SRD grant policy within ten working days.

In court papers, the Scalabrini Centre argued that the suffering experienced by asylum-seekers and special-permit holders was particularly severe because:

  • People on asylum-seeker visas that have expired under lockdown often face dismissal from work, no income, and frozen bank accounts;
  • Asylum-seekers and special-permit holders are excluded from the majority of governmental financial relief packages;
  • Many asylum-seekers and special-permit holders are excluded from governmental food parcels as a 13-digit ID number is required to register; and
  • Unemployment Insurance Fund applications for non-South Africans are subject to specific delays, as confirmed by the Department of Labour.

The Scalabrini Centre said it had seen a large surge in requests for help, with 1,400 people calling in the first eight weeks of lock-down requesting assistance with food, rental or electricity. Many of these were families with children who would usually have benefitted from school feeding programmes.