16 Days: Stateless in South Africa


During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Legal Resources Centre will be sharing the stories of survivors of gender based violence who fled their countries to seek asylum in South Africa. Many women, children and sexual and gender non-conforming persons endure horrific hardship, sexual persecution, assault, rape and discrimination in their countries. When they arrive in South Africa their hardship does not end. Some women experience sexual persecution while crossing the border, while others may experience oppression, intolerance and discrimination while trying to create a life in South Africa. When they enter the asylum seeker process, they often endure further persecution. These are their stories.

Stateless in South Africa

J is 24 and was born in Zimbabwe. She came with her brother to South Africa because she believed that she could find a better life here. “At home there was instability and violence because of the politics and elections. South Africa is idealized as a place of opportunity in Zimbabwe so we thought it would be a good idea.”

Like many immigrants, J crossed over the South Africa-Zimbabwe border with the help of “agents”. Border jumping is a dangerous and expensive way of crossing into South Africa, but desperation drives many Zimbabweans and other migrants to use this route despite the risks. Researchers questioning just a handful of migrants in South Africa have heard that in some instances it can cost them about R2000 to be helped across the border and occasionally migrants have bribed police offices when they are caught. Many women who were interviewed indicated that they had to do “favours” for agents, have been raped and assaulted, and some indicate that people in their groups were murdered. “If you cross, people accuse you, beat you, kill you … they are a mix of South Africans and Zimbabweans. They sometimes rape women. The first time I came, they hit and beat me.”

For many migrants with families or for migrant women giving birth to children in South Africa, living in our country is challenging. J gave birth to children in South Africa. Although everyone has the Constitutional right to access health care in the country, migrants face discrimination at hospitals and are unable to access documentation for their children, rendering their children vulnerable to statelessness. “If you gave birth in the hospital, they tell you that you are here illegally. You have to have a passport to access healthcare in the hospital. We cannot get a South African birth certificate for the children.”

The issue of statelessness is a worldwide issue, especially for children born to migrants. Statelessness leaves people without a nationality, meaning that they cannot enjoy the protections and rights of the country that they live in. For example, some countries will not allow a stateless person to vote, they may have difficulty accessing health care and education and have no legal identity. The UNHCR have calculated that at least ten million people worldwide are currently stateless and a baby is born stateless every ten minutes. They further state that most situations of statelessness are a direct consequence of discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or gender.

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The Legal Resources Centre is a public interest law clinic established in South Africa in 1979

2 thoughts on “16 Days: Stateless in South Africa”

  1. my wife she is pregnant here in south africa and both we use passport,if she gave birth a child here is it possible the child can get certificates of south

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