Unaccompanied and separated migrant children from the Kids Haven shelter have extended their gratitude to the South African government for granting them refugee status and allowing them access to education and basic needs.
The migrant children penned emotional letters to express their gratitude and relay their stories of why they fled their countries of origin, and how they ended up in South Africa.
The letters were read on Monday during a panel discussion hosted by the Department of Social Development focusing on services rendered for unaccompanied and separated migrant children in South Africa.
Kids Haven is a Child and Youth Care Centre (CYCC) in Benoni, which protects and cares for children in crisis by sheltering, educating and training them.
In one of the letters, a 19-year-old Ugandan male shared how he fled his country with his older brother who was arrested by police in Zimbabwe, leaving him to fend for himself.
He kept going on without his brother, and had to cross the Limpopo river alone.
“I was lost and worried how my life was going to turn out in a country I didn’t know. I kept on going and ended up in Pretoria where I slept on the streets. I then met someone with whom I shared my story, and they advised that I report myself to the Social Development Department.
“I thank Kids Haven for supporting me through my education and providing a home for me. I am now doing Grade 12 and I promise to bring distinctions at the end of the year. The challenge is that I am still undocumented,” the letter read.
The 19-year-old said he wants to become a Chartered Accountant, and he strongly believes that he will achieve that if he is supported to get legal documents.
In another letter, a 20-year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo extended his gratitude to the South African government and Kids Haven for making his journey a good one as an undocumented migrant child.
“Thanks to the love, shelter and educational support that me and my two young sisters get from Kids Haven. I would like to thank the government of SA for granting us refugee status in the country, hence I can now pursue my dream of becoming a professional boxer while doing plumbing on the side,” the letter read.
During his opening remarks, Dr Tebogo Mabe said programmes to protect unaccompanied migrant children have been gradually implemented by the State.
He acknowledged that providing protection for this group of children is not easy, as most of them travel secretly and cross international borders irregularly, thus making it difficult for them to report abuses they are subjected to.
“The nature of child migration means a considerable number of children remain invisible and go undetected by the child care and protection system, despite their high vulnerability,” Mabe said.
He said the State has embarked on inter-sectoral efforts to assist these children, as no one department can manage and take the responsibility alone.
Mabe said concerted efforts by government are displayed where each department takes it responsibility towards their mandate in rendering services to these children.
Chief Education Specialist from the Department of Basic Education, Nkosana Thakgedi, said the services offered to a migrant child in a South African school are the same as those offered to any other child that is admitted into the SA schooling system.
“In terms of the admission of learners who are not South African citizens, the right to education extends to everyone within the boundaries of South Africa. The nationality and immigration status is immaterial,” he said.
The Department of Social Development’s Lillian Thobejane emphasised that as long as a child is in South Africa, they have the same rights as the children of the country.
She said the Children’s Act caters indiscriminately for all children, including migrants.
“To make things even practical on the operational level, the department ensured that there is service delivery by initiating and developing policies to clarify the provision of care and protection services specifically to migrant children,” Thobejane said.
She said in the 2020/21 financial year, the department, in conjunction with UNICEF, conducted an audit of all unaccompanied and separated migrants in alternative care, with the intention of knowing how big is the problem and how best to assist these children.
“DSD alone cannot adequately address the plight of migrant children and as such, we are part of collaborative platforms that seek to address the challenges experienced by this group of children and also to improve service delivery to them,” she said.
UNICEF’s Hellen Nyangoya said South Africa is a major destination for children on the move.
“As a result of all this, in 2019, the Department of Social Development, the European Union, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF and partners joined a global partnership to champion the rights of children on the move by launching the global promotion of best practices for children in migration in South Africa,” she said.
The global initiative is being implemented in Mexico, El Salvador, Zambia and South Africa. The project started on 20 October 2020 and will end on 20 April 2023.
The overall objective of the project is to protect and help realise the rights of children on the move.