It is 15 February 2017, and the sun has barely risen. At Scalabrini’s offices in the centre of Cape Town, a group of advocacy officers meet to transport hundreds of files to the South African parliament. Despite their exhaustion, adrenalin flows: since November 2016, they have been collecting thousands of application forms from former Angolan refugees, and today is the deadline for submission.
Within these files are 1,737 applications, each documenting the lives of applicants who have established themselves in South Africa over the last twenty years. After filling dozens of boxes with this precious cargo, Scalabrini’s employees delivered the 160 lever-arch files to the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA). Here, the Minister will consider each individual’s application to remain in South Africa permanently.
Take Mr. and Mrs. Joao,* who fled to South Africa after their village in southern Angola was bombed and their son was abducted by soldiers. The couple were granted refugee status in South Africa in 1999 and began to put down roots. Within four years, the couple had started a small bakery in Brooklyn. The couple had another child, Ernesto. The bakery grew in popularity and they began employing staff. In 2013, their lives were turned upside down when their refugee status was ceased. Desperate to stay in South Africa, the couple were issued an ‘Angolan Cessation Project’ permit, or ACP permit, which expired in June 2015. As the expiry date drew near, it became apparent that the couple were unable to extend their ACP permit. The family were faced with the prospect of being forcibly returned to Angola. Ernesto, then fourteen years old, had never set foot in Angola. Mr. and Mrs. Joao held painful memories of the war, and considered South Africa their home. Following legal steps and negotiations between Scalabrini and DHA, a Court Order allowed the Joao family to apply for permanent residency in South Africa.
This Court Order is the latest step of a long negotiation process between DHA and Scalabrini regarding the legal status of former Angolan refugees in South Africa. ACP permits, like those held by the Joao family, were issued to Angolan refugees who wished to remain in South Africa. These permits were easy to obtain – only a passport, police clearance certificate and letter of employment were required. However, these permits were near impossible to extend. When the inability of this group to legalize their future stay became apparent, Scalabrini began discussions with DHA to advocate for Angolans’ continued legal stay based on their strong ties to South Africa. In October 2015, Scalabrini handed in an application to the Minister of Home Affairs, which asked that he consider providing permanent residency to a ‘category of foreigners’ – in this case, those Angolans with the special ACP permit. This application was made under Section 31 of the Immigration Act that allows the Minister the discretion to grant permanent residency in special circumstances.
In November 2016, following legal steps, the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Malusi Gigaba, agreed to consider and determine applications, from ACP permit holders, for permanent residence in terms of section 31(2)(b) of the Immigration Act.
“You can see, from the Court Order, the types of documents that DHA want to see from former Angolan refugees” says Lotte Manicom, an advocacy officer at Scalabrini Centre. The Court Order requests applicants to submit police clearance certificates, bank statements, employment contracts and ‘proof of socioeconomic integration’ amongst other documents. “Many Angolans applicants put a lot of effort into these applications. We have one applicant who submitted a two-hundred page application that documented his life, from an award at Fish Hoek primary school to his proof of his current job, which he has held for the last five years. He said that being forced back to Angola, a country he does not even remember, would be like being a foreigner all over again” explains Lotte.
Indeed, many of these former Angolan refugees have lived in South Africa for decades – on average 18 years – and have started businesses, attained higher degrees and added skills to the economy of this country. An entire generation of children born to Angolan parents have grown up in South Africa and this is the only country they have ever known. A report by Scalabrini found a high level of integration amongst Angolan respondents and “The Cessation”, a short documentary by Scalabrini, followed three Angolan refugees as they reflected on the impact of the cessation processes.
“I cannot go back, my kids are born here and they are receiving education in SA”.
“I can only visit, not settle, in Angola”.
“I cannot go back; there are no life prospects. I wouldn’t know where do begin”.
“Angola is just a picture in my mind”
Quotes from the report “Angola is just a picture in my mind”
With their permanent residency applications now lodged at DHA, Angolan applicants like the Joao family tentatively await the outcome of their application – which DHA is due provide, to each individual applicant, by 15 May 2017.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the person involved.