On the 11 July this year, Mr Mohamed Issa Salimu was issued with Refugee Status in South Africa. This is the second time he has received refugee status; the first time was in 1998, after he had been living in the country for about 6 years. Refugee status expires after 2 years, after which it must be renewed. Unfortunately, applications for renewal can be difficult, with long waiting times and uncooperative officials, and the fine issued for expired documents is unaffordable for many.
When Mr Salimu arrived in South Africa from Burundi in 1993, he lived near Park Station in Johannesburg, able to survive through the generosity of a church organisation that brought him food and blankets. He then moved to Hillbrow, before settling near the Plein Street taxi rank.
He is alone in Johannesburg, living on the streets and surviving by begging for food and accepting assistance from church organisations. He is the survivor of a bomb attack on his family home in Burundi that left his mother and wife dead. Fortunately his children were not harmed, although the authorities in Burundi took them to a place of safety and he has not been able to see them. After all of these years, they are grown up and have made a life for themselves.
Mr Salimu was severely disfigured by the bomb attack. He has a prosthetic leg and walks with a crutch, but is surprisingly self-sufficient when he visits the LRC offices in Johannesburg, where paralegal, Busi Motshana, assists him with his various applications. They chat away in Zulu, which together with Shangaan, is a language which he learned to speak after he arrived in South Africa.
At the moment Busi is assisting him with an application to the Department of Social Development for a Social Relief of Distress Grant, after which Busi will help him to apply to South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) for a disability grant. He will be assessed at a hospital before his application is considered. Both of these grants will give him choices and opportunities he would never have had before.
As soon as someone is issued with refugee status, they can apply for a refugee identity document, which contains a special identity document. Once you have proof that you have applied for the identity document, you can visit SASSA to apply for any type of grant. During the waiting period, an application to the Department of Social Development is required for a Social Relief of Distress Grant, which is a temporary grant to assist you in a time of need.
After his first refugee permit expired, Mr Salimu tells us that it was hard for him. He was no longer able to access the services he had used before, such as accessing healthcare, because he was constantly asked to show his documents. He was also afraid of the police, because he knew that they will be abusive towards him. In 2011, police assaulted him for begging in the streets and he lived in constant fear of this happening again.
Despite the dangers of the living conditions and the threats from authorities, Mr Salimu tells us that he doesn’t want to go back to Burundi. He believes life is harder there than it is living on the street in South Africa. Since issued with Refugee Status, he believes his life has already changed. He is free; he can walk wherever he wants to without fearing anyone. He believes people will be more willing to assist him because he now has documents.
His final words show his humility and his fighting spirit. He says that he hopes others will see his strength. Even if you have suffered, he believes you will be alright, if you just have faith.
By Claire Martens
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