Matriculant petitions for stateless youths to get into universities

She is among many South African-born children with immigrant parents struggling to get identification documents

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A Cape Town matriculant has started an online petition for Home Affairs to make special provisions for children born in South Africa with immigrant parents to apply for identity documents. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

  • A Cape Town matriculant has started to petition the Department of Home Affairs to make special provisions for children born in South Africa with immigrant parents to apply for identity documents.
  • She has collected over 25,000 signatures to date.
  • The matriculant has been struggling to submit online applications to universities across the country because she does not have an ID or passport number.
  • She has been advised to contact the representing body, Universities South Africa, for assistance.

A Cape Town matriculant has started a petition, calling for the Department of Home Affairs to make special provisions for children born in South Africa with immigrant parents to apply for identity documents. At the time of publication, the petition had more than 25,000 signatures.

Karolyn Mujinga is among scores of South African-born children of immigrants who are struggling to enrol in tertiary institutions and to access funding to further their studies. With the refugee reception centres still closed, many young people have been left in limbo and are unable to apply for citizenship or identity documents.

Mujinga, 18, was born in Cape Town and has lived in South Africa all her life. Her mother is originally from Congo.

“When I was applying to university, most did not have provision for refugee applicants or asylum seeker students. It’s like we don’t even exist. I couldn’t use my birth certificate because there’s no ID number,” she said.

Mujinga tried applying online to the University of Johannesburg, University of Pretoria, Wits University, University of Cape Town, and Nelson Mandela University, where she hoped to study Law, Chemical and Mechanical Engineering.

She said most of the institutions’ websites would only give the option to select, “South African citizen, permanent resident, or international student to use with a passport number”.

Mujinga said although she was able to enrol at school, she could not apply for funding or bursaries. “It’s quite disheartening when most of the bursaries are just for South African citizens. There needs to be at least something where 20% of the students they accept are refugees and asylum seekers, and 80% are South Africans,” she said.

“When you step into primary school, you believe that you are all equal. You believe that when you leave high school, you’ll leave with a choice on whether to study further, take a gap year or work. But for most immigrants, it isn’t a choice,” she said.

In December 2019, a ruling by the Makhanda High Court on the Admission of Learners to Public Schools stated that all children must be conditionally admitted to school while parents try to get documents. But for many refugee and immigrant children, the process has not been as simple, with many being unable to access state schools.

Lawyers for Human Rights legal researcher Tshegofatso Mothapo said although the law provides for a provisional admission to school, it has “proven to be a barrier for children of refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented South Africans, undocumented or migrants, and those with stateless parents because they are unable to furnish documents such as birth certificates”.

“There is a misconception by school administrators that a handwritten birth certificate often presented by learners whose parents are non-nationals is not legitimate proof of documentation. When it in actual fact is,” she said.

The Department of Basic Education also released a directive in July 2019 informing schools that it is unlawful to turn away undocumented learners, however, many refugee and migrant children are still unable to access state schools.

Mothapo said several schools might not have received the circular or heard of the judgment, and have continued operating on the basis that a parent must present an official birth certificate of the learner when applying for admission to a state school.

She said another delay is that the online platform to register children does not allow registration without school administrators uploading documentation. “It seems the DBE has not put measures in place to ensure the registration of undocumented learners takes place on the online platform, resulting in learners being turned away.”

CEO and spokesperson of Universities South Africa (USAf) – the representative body of South Africa’s public universities – Professor Ahmed Bawa said provision is available to immigrant learners wanting to apply to tertiary institutions.

“All immigrant students must apply to the Matriculation Board at Universities South Africa for the appropriate recognition and the issuing of the Matriculation Exemption to be considered for university entrance,” he said.

The Matriculation Board will then evaluate exemptions based on the qualifications presented and not the country of residence, said Bawa. He said there were currently no substantial delays or backlogs in the Matriculation Board system.

TOPICS:  Education Human Rights Immigration Tertiary Education

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

According to the preamble to the Constitution, "South Africa belongs to all who live in it united in our diversity", but then we found it a struggle for immigrant teens to apply to varsity for some reason.

It is so sad to come across a hardworking kid not being rewarded accordingly; instead they are scammed. Why let such a brilliant brain go to waste when we could nurture it, so that in the end we don't make an enemy out of these immigrants kids.

This is an excellent kid who comes from a poor background but is working very hard at school to achieve good marks so that she can become a doctor and give back to the very same country that denies her citizenship. She once applied to get the papers but was requested to pay R7,000.00 and only to find out that they have been scammed. She still tried applying again and still she has to wait for a long time and by that time she won't be able to apply to varsity.

So what's the point of providing them with a place for immigration if we cannot treat them as one of our own? After all, they are children who were not aware of the situation they'll be facing. As a South African kid, I beg that they are given equal opportunities as the rest of South African kids.

Dear Editor

A friend of mine in school is an immigrant and has been staying in South Africa for more than five years. He was enrolled and granted to study in primary, high school and even secondary but it wasn't easy because, according to him, "I almost got kicked out of Secondary School because I don't have an ID". Teachers used to make him uncomfortable and learners would burst into laughter - he was the only one in his class who was a foreigner. He was even robbed of prizes, trophies, and medals just because he was an immigrant. But now he has done well for himself and his family, to say the least. He was always the leader of every hobby he did in school.

Seemingly most immigrants are very smart and can do the economy of the country justice. I mean what's the point of these children learning if they will still be robbed of the opportunity to work and change their home situation? Everyone will agree with me when I say studying isn't easy but because everyone wants a good life and to end the struggle in their families. They work hard in school, especially immigrants. I say it's either they get IDs to study further or be banished once because what is being done to them isn't fair. I wonder if they would have done the same thing they doing to these kids if their kids were immigrants too.

We beg of you to please give them access to get to universities.

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