Posted by: sandralouisemurray | January 25, 2012

Lawyers for Human Rights

By Sandra Murray & Divya Roy, Global Interns at Lawyers for Human Rights, Durban

Our names are Sandra and Divya and we are undertaking a 6 week internship through the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law with Oxfam Australia. We have been placed with Oxfam’s partner organization Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) in Durban, South Africa. This 6 week internship began on Saturday the 8th of January when we finally arrived in Johannesburg after 29 hours of travelling.

During the first week of our internship we attended induction sessions on a range of topics.

At Wilgespruit Fellowship Centre we learnt about the history of apartheid in South Africa through listening to first-hand accounts from people who were part of the struggle. We also had the opportunity of visiting the Zandspruit township situated near Monash’s South African campus. On our first day in Durban, we received an overview of Oxfam Australia’s work in the country, as well as a security briefing. We also attended workshops on HIV/AIDS and the social security system in South Africa. At the end of the first week we were lucky enough to tour the Warwick Junction Market, an internationally renowned informal market.

Our first week at LHR began with orientation at Refugee Social Services (RSS) which is a UNHCR funded support service for asylum seekers and refugees. RSS offers a range of services including emergency assistance to refugees in crisis, training and employment opportunities, and an HIV/AIDS peer education program. We learnt about the gap between the rights of refugees and asylum seekers to work, study and access state services and the practical reality of the challenges many face living in South Africa. One refugee shared the difficulties he is experiencing in opening a bank account as no banks are accepting his refugee identification card, although legally this should be sufficient identification.

Orientation with LHR involved an overview of the refugee legal process in South Africa and the work of LHR in that system. South Africa was the largest single recipient country of asylum seekers from 2007-2010. A refugee is defined in South African legislation as either a person fleeing persecution or conflict in their country of origin. Everyone is entitled to apply for asylum in South Africaand live in the community whilst they are awaiting a decision on their refugee status. There are avenues for appeal to administrative bodies and for judicial review for rejected claims.

LHR is also a UNHCR funded agency that assists with applications for refugee status, permanent residency and citizenship. The attorneys also prepare appeals to the Refugee Appeals Board and applications for judicial review. Additionally, LHR is conducting strategic litigation in an attempt to resolve systemic issues facing refugees. Through a current case they are seeking to improve access for refugees to certain social grants in South Africa, including old age grants and care dependency grants.

Although we have only been in the country for two weeks we feel we have already learned and gained so much from this experience, and we look forward to posting next week about the work we will be involved with at LHR.

By Sandra Murray and Divya Roy

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