Former refugees win right to remain in South Africa

Cape Town - Over 1 000 former Angolan refugees were this week granted the right by the Department of Home Affairs to live and work in South Africa for a period of four years. 

The former refugees, who arrived in South Africa during the 1990’s as civil war ravaged Angola, had been in danger of being deported when their status as refugees was revoked in 2013. 

Their cause was taken up by refugee rights advocacy group the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, in partnership with the Legal Resource Centre, who argued they should be allowed to stay on in South Africa given their close business, family and social ties to the country.  

On Thursday, Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize announced that 1 364 of the 1 702 former refugees who had applied for residency under an exemption in the Immigration Act had been granted it, on condition they supplied biometric data.   

The permanent residency statuses of 106 applicants with criminal records will be decided on at a later date on a case-by-case basis, said Mkhize. 

About 230 former refugees still need to supply police clearance certificates. 

Miranda Madikane, the director of the Scalabrini Centre, said she welcomed the decision.  

"All parties involved have worked very hard on this case. We welcome the decision to grant these applicants rights of residency, especially in our national context where increasing numbers of migrants are falling into undocumented states."

But Madikane said some former refugees were anxious about what would happen in 2021, when the four-year period that they had been granted permanent residency had expired. 

Applicant Irene Boaventura, 26, a manager at an upscale Cape Town restaurant, said the outcome was a "dream, even if it's only for four years".

"The first thing I plan to do is open an investment account."

Boaventura, who fled Angola 19 years ago with her mother and younger brother, said she hoped to provide the Department of Home Affairs with her biometric data as soon as next week. 

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