Refugee Rights in South Africa: Addressing Social Injustices in Government Financial Assistance Schemes
The political debate on exclusion of refugees and asylum-seekers from socio-economic benefits and opportunities is arguably underpinnned by assumptions, fallacies and misconceptions that a higher number of refugees are not “genuine.” Rather they are bogus refugees who are in South Africa to seek a better life. That belief has a dire consequence of treating refugee students as ‘international students” at higher learning institutions, resulting in depriving refugees and asylum-seekers of the right to education and training and of other social opportunities. These assumptions fly in the face of international refugee law principles that refugees and asylum-seekers are to be accorded ‘treatment as favourable as possible’ with respect to tertiary education. Thus, the main objective of the paper is to argue for favourable extension of student financial aid and assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa for educational purpose in line with the principles of fair and equitable treatment under international law.
The paper depends largely on the concept of social justice and the philosophy of Ubuntu (which means to be humane toward others). It argues that practicalizing Ubuntu demands a distributive justice system to ensure that the most vulnerable people have access to certain primary goods and they are afforded social opportunities to realise the most fulsome life. In so doing, the paper draws legal distinctions between two often-confused concepts vis a refugee student and an international student though the discussion of the two distinct regimes that regulate their sojourn in South Africa, namely the Refugees Act 130 of 1998, as amended and the Immigration Act 13 of 2002, as amended.
Keywords: Refugee, Ubuntu, social justice, rights, immigration, asylum