Home is where the heartbreak is for Angolans
About 2,000 former refugees say they are still without residency after two decades
A group of about 2,000 Angolan former refugees claim they are effectively stranded in SA due to a visa stalemate with the Department of Home Affairs.
Many of the group have been resident in SA for more than 20 years, with SA-born children, but are still being denied permanent residency. Instead, Home Affairs has offered them a four-year “special visa”, with no clarity on what happens once that expires.
The group’s problems are compounded by hiccups with the special visa process, with many either not receiving the visa or reporting processing errors, resulting in them being undocumented and, therefore, unable to access the local financial sector via a bank account.
They say the SA government expects them to return to Angola, despite many of them having left during the civil war while still infants. Others who left as adults still do not feel safe, nor equipped, to uproot and move back to face an uncertain future.
“The South African government is telling us to go back. It is not fair,” said Manuel Panzo, 49, who is married to a South African. He said former Angolan refugees had been promised a “bridging visa”, which would then be replaced with permanent residency. “When we saw that there would be no permanent residency we were very disappointed,” Panzo said.
Abrantes Britos, a representative of the refugee group, said he believed the department’s conduct constituted a human-rights infringement. “I will never take my children to Angola – I would never advise anybody to go to Angola. The situation is not okay,” Britos said.
A 28-year-old mother said her special visa had a spelling error which rendered it useless. As a result, she is unable to register her child at a local school. “There are a lot of people sitting around with children who can’t be put in crèche or school because their paperwork is either invalid or non-existent,” she said. “Both of my kids were born here, but neither of them is a citizen here. It is super-crazy. If they are born here they should have rights like other South African kids,” she said.
Miranda Madikane, the director of the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, an organisation providing services to refugees and migrants, said the DHA’s decision to grant temporary residency permits was at odds with the advice of the United Nations Refugee Agency, which recommended former Angolan refugees be granted permanent residence in their adopted countries, despite Angola dropping off the list of combat zones.
Some sub-Saharan countries had already adopted this approach, including Zambia and Namibia, she said.
Madikane said that while the Angolan refugee community welcomed the special visa as a step forward in their quest for legitimacy, they are still homeless without a permanent form of residency. “We are really relieved that Home Affairs decided to grant this category of people special visas to stay in South Africa, but we are concerned that they were only granted four years, with no way of knowing what will happen in 2021,” she said.
“Considering they have been here two decades and some of them have adult children, we would have liked to have seen a more permanent residency granted to this category of people. This would allow this group to continue to contribute, economically and socially, to South Africa.”
The DHA has not responded to repeated requests for comment over the past three weeks.