Government has officially ended Angolan refugee status in South Africa, leaving many Angolans who have lived and worked in the country for over a decade fearful of their future.
CAPE TOWN - Refugees from Angola claim they were not given enough time, assistance or clarity following government decisions to end their refugee status in the country.
In May Cabinet declared that the end of August would be the cessation date for affected Angolan refugees, citing conventions on refugee status from the UN and the African Union for the latest move.
This was based on an United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announcement in 2009 to its member states to end refugee status for Angolans who fled Angola due to the civil war which ended in 2002.
The end of the civil war in 2002 saw Angola emerge from more than 40 years of armed conflict, beginning with the war of independence from Portugal (1961–1975) and immediately followed by its civil war (1975-2002).
The Congress of Student and Angola Community (CECAngola) marched to Parliament in mid-May to gain clarity on South Africa’s stance.
President of CECAngola, Manuel Panzo, said that they had received only verbal notice about the government’s stance in 2012, but received little clarity on if, and when, cessation of refugee status would take place.
The Department officially announced on May 21 that it would be ending Angolan refugee status in the country, and would set up ‘help centres’ at various locations to help refugees “return to their country” or submit motivation to remain in South Africa.
38-year-old Joao Pedro says he was one of the first people to apply at the help centres for a work permit.
However, the department ordered that refugees were required to reapply for Angolan citizenship and produce their Angolan passports.
Pedro says this is a labourious process, and one that was not facilitated correctly at the help desks.
“The department promised us one thing, but delivered something else,” Pedro said. “They said the Angolan government would have machines to give us our passports, but this did not happen.”
With the three-month window period now over, Pedro will have to return to Luanda in Angola to acquire his passport.
Pedro has been under refugee status in South Africa for fourteen years, works as a pipe fitter in Cape Town and is raising three school-going children
“It is going to be very difficult for me to go back home and apply for the visa to come back to South Africa. There is no company that will accept a worker to be away for two months,” said Pedro.
Braam Hanekom from advocacy group People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), said he didn’t think it wasn’t a malicious decision by the government, but that, “giving them such notice is inhumane, especially for those who have lived here for over ten years, they face massive challenges”.
Panzo also says that refugees who now have to go back to Angola to acquire passports and ID’s face persecution, as the country “is not yet as stable as they say it is”.
In May Angola&39;s main opposition party Unita threatened civil war after it accused the ruling MPLA of killing one of its activists in an attack in the south of the country.
The department of Home Affairs did respond to numerous requests for comment or clarity.
Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan, did say in a statement on August 29, that approximately 60% Angolan refugees in South Africa visited the one stop service centres over the 14 week period.
Chohan said: “We are encouraged that over 56% of those that visited the one stop centres have applied to resume their Angolan citizenship, through applying for Angolan passports.
“We were able to immediately process 16% that came to the one stop centres with temporary resident’s permits in terms of the South African Immigration Act.”