Court ruling will legalise dependents of asylum seekers

Court ruling will legalise dependents of asylum seekers

Scalabrini Centre hails court order as life-changing for refugees

By Tariro Washinyira

On Wednesday, the Western Cape High Court handed down a court order that allows the dependents of asylum seekers and refugees to legalise their status in South Africa in a process known as ‘family-joining’. Dependents are defined as spouses, children and other dependents of asylum seekers.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Scalabrini Centre hailed the court order as “life-changing”.

The Scalabrini Centre, represented by the Refugee Rights Unit at the University of Cape Town and Advocate Suzanna Harvey, took the matter to court in 2016.

The organisation said that many applicants had experienced barriers in the family joining process.

“Wives, husbands, children, and other dependents of asylum applicants and refugees have been left with no way to document themselves in South Africa. They have been forced into an undocumented state, placing them in a position that is vulnerable to exploitation, detention and arrest,” said the statement.

“With documentation, these families no longer need to fear arrest and detention, can work legally, and can enrol their children in school without administrative barriers,” it said.

“As refugees cannot return to their country due to conflict or persecution, maintaining a family unit that is documented together is an important part of building stability and ensuring proper refugee protection in South Africa,” the statement said.

The organisation said, “Dependents are now able to apply to be documented as either through family joining or on their own grounds. Certain documents need to be provided where possible, such as a marriage certificate or birth certificate. This is regardless of where the marriage or birth took place and affidavits are to be submitted in the absence of such documents.

“This family joining is to be completed regardless of whether the dependents were included in the applicant’s original asylum application or not. Should there be ‘serious doubts’ about the validity of a parents’ claim over their child, DHA can request a DNA test,” said the Scalabrini Centre.

On Friday, Home Affairs spokesperson said the order was based on an agreement between the department, Scalabrini and the UNHCR.

“Refugees and asylum seekers were never denied this right if they had complied with the processes on arrival in the country. Problems arose when a person would go to our centre and claim that he or she is no longer single but married, or where people would say they have children but had forgotten to declare that they had children on their application,” he said.

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