Refugee children miss school to renew asylum permits

“My mom says I should be strong, but my feet always hurt from standing in the long queues” - grade 4 child

Photo of people queuing
People queuing at the Desmond Tutu Refugee Centre in Pretoria to renew their asylum-seeking papers. Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro


Chido, Esther and Irvin, aged 12, ten and six respectively, are missing school. Instead of going to class they are queuing at the Desmond Tutu Refugee Centre in Pretoria to renew their asylum-seeking papers.

“I grew up in these long queues, coming to get our asylum papers,” says Chido. Her family is originally from Zimbabwe but Chido was born in South Africa. To date her family has not yet been granted refugee status.

She says they usually arrive at the centre as early as 4am. Sometimes they have to come back to get their papers processed. This might mean missing school for days.

Esther, who is in grade 4 at a school in Pretoria North, says she has missed exams before because she had to be at the center to renew her papers.

Irvin, who is in grade 2, says, “My mom says I should be strong, but my feet always hurt from standing in the long queues. I’m always sad when we have to come back here.”

“There is nothing we can do because we need the permits for school. My mom is afraid that we might get arrested if we do not renew our permits,” says a young Ghanaian national in the queue.

“At school they need these papers or else they will chase me away,” says a grade 6 learner who attends school in Orlando.

“Home affairs laws should make life easier for our children,” says Ditto, a Somali national who only gave her first name. She has to bring her two toddlers, aged two and three.

“I hope my refugee status will be approved before my children start school,” she says. “I don’t want them to miss classes coming to the center.”

Spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs David Hlabane said refugee children are accorded their parents’ status. This, he said, is valid for four years and they are expected to return with their parents 90 days before their permit expires.

But while Hlabane’s claim is true for people granted refugee status, it is not the case for people renewing their asylum status. People not awarded refugee status have to renew their asylum-seeking permits every one to three months.

In the long queue are small children, restless and bored, some crying and screaming. Some asylum seekers journey long distances and traveling with small children adds to the hardship.

“Maybe a small playground should be set up to keep our children entertained,” suggests Ditto.

Some asylum seekers in the queue suggest that Home Affairs should only require small children to present themselves on the first application and not have to return for renewals. Others suggest school children be allowed to renew their asylum papers during school holidays.

Hlabane said, “Home Affairs is not aware of refugee children waiting in queues to renew refugee permits. Please assist in establishing at which Refugee Reception Office this happens in order to allow us to look into the matter.”


Dear Editor

It is with great interest that I read this article about "Refugee children miss school to renew asylum permits". I'm a foreigner myself, and all you write is correct, except what David Hlabane said, and this denial has pained me.

As you know and have noticed, the majority of people that renew their permits are asylum seekers. They are requested to come with the children as they have their permits under the parents files. They miss school, and if the permit is not renewed they come the day of new appointment.

They miss class for 2-3 days. If you can write more articles about it and all other abuses and no respect for the refugee act, we would appreciate it. We have had enough and want a real change.

Dear Editor

It is such a great pleasure seeing you taking time and effort to write about the suffering that we are going through. I have been to the home affairs twice now in Durban but they keep sending us back, saying that we should come back or that they have a technical issue for the past 2 weeks now.

I am currently working, and I get paid my wages every Monday night, now the bank has decided to closed down my bank account saying that I should submit a new permit to keep my bank account open. I've been paid three times now, the money goes through but I have no access to it because bidvest bank closed my credit and is waiting for a new permit.

I really don't understand what's going on, I've been here for over 8 years with a 6 months permit. I have to renew it every 6 months, no change to it. I don't know whether I will ever get refugee status or not.

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