Stateless children fight for citizenship after four-year legal battle
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Cape Town - With little to no right at all, the plight for citizenship by naturalisation in South Africa continues to drive vulnerable youths to the margins of society despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling in the matter involving the Minister of Home Affairs vs Miriam Ali case.
Rabiyah Farieda, who was born to foreign national parents in South Africa, is one of many children who hoped to see the light after the Constitutional Court ruled in the favour of five individuals who brought an urgent application to the Western Cape High Court in 2017, petitioning for the right to apply for South African citizenship.
Their right was approved by the court, which allowed the applicants to apply for citizenship through the South African Citizenship Act 88 of 1995, and according to Legal Resources Centre, the court directed the department to accept their application and decide on their applications within the 10 days of receiving this order, however, Home Affairs took the matter on appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).
In November 2018, the SCA upheld the High Court decision, stating that: “it is not in the interest of justice and neither is it just and equitable to send the respondents from pillar to post simply because the minister has adopted a supine attitude that the regulations will only be promulgated in due course”.
Soon after, Home Affairs approached the Constitutional Court, but in February 2020, the court rejected the appeal, upholding the findings of the two lower courts.
Now, four years after, the legal battle continues. Home Affairs has delayed on working on a way forward within the stipulated time frame per the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment, despite office hours being extending, Covid-19 regulations eased, and vaccinations being in full swing.
“There's not much you can do when you are stateless, because at the end of the day it boils down to an absence of documentation that represents the country you were born in. It feels like you are an alien walking around in the country you call home, and experiencing obstacles that hinder you from achieving your dreams,” said Farieda.
“Because I do not have an ID, I cannot get vaccinated, I cannot vote, I cannot get a bursary let alone study a course such as medicine, and I cannot get a job despite having the skills and experience, because I am not classified as South African, regardless of having a birth certificate issued at a South African Hospital.”
“What hurts the most is that you spend all your life in the country you call home, experiencing the richness of different cultures and ambience, yet at the same time you experience discrimination that sets a limit to your dreams because you do not have a 13-digit number,” said Farieda.
Jesuit Refugee Service advocacy co-ordinator Abigail Dawson said young people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness are experiencing an infringement of their basic human rights; the best way forward is for the department to prioritise birth registration for all children born in South Africa
“Going forward, the best possible way to eradicate statelessness is to prioritise birth registration for all children born in South Africa, and ensure that the department efficiently processes applications for permanent residence by exemption and citizenship by naturalisation,” said Dawson.
After two weeks of numerous emails and follow-up texts, Home Affairs spokesperson Siyabulela Qoza said that the challenge experienced was due to the fact that the department had to conduct a risk assessment, but going forward, the resumptions of services will be considered when the risk assessment indicates that it is safe to do so.
“The department has conducted a risk assessment wherein we looked at the volumes vis-à-vis capacity at front offices where services are rendered.
“Based on the risk assessment, approval was granted for resumption of the retention and renunciation applications that fall within citizenship services, and going forward other services will be considered when the risk assessment indicates that it is safe to do so,” said Qoza.