Refugees' Access to Education in South Africa

Berea is an inner-city neighbourhood in Johannesburg,South Africa, and home to a large number of asylum seekers who have entered the country, sometimes without documentation.
Community workers in the neighbourhood recently got together to determine why some of the children were out of school.

The answer they gave, said Judith Manjoro, a teacher by trade from Zimbabwe, was that schools asked them to produce identity documents they didn't have.
"We also found the parents weren't working and couldn't afford to pay school fees, even for public schools," she added to the IRIN.
The iTemba Study Centre, which began as a community-led initiative in 2011, now educates 140 children in five crowded classrooms in Berea. The teachers are volunteers and the textbooks are donated. Still, the school is able to provide schooling for youngsters in grades one through eight.
16-year-old Antonia Tshili from Zimbabwe was forced leave a government school in South Africa because her mother could not pay school fees. But, her national identity also made her a vulnerable target.
"At the other school there is this thing that Zimbabweans should go back to their country; they bullied me," she said, after moving to iTemba.
"Competition between refugees and South African nationals for jobs, housing, business opportunities and social services has raised tensions, and aggravated xenophobic attitudes among some in the local community," observes the United Nations.
Nevertheless, all children—even if they are unaccompanied minors or the children of undocumented migrants—have the right to be in school.
A report released in November by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that refugee children in urban areas have a particularly limited access to schooling—especially secondary schooling.
Refugee Education: A Global Review, also indicates that refugee children with special needs continue to be another group that may be left out.
"The inclusion of children with specific needs ranges from 3% in Burundi to 100% in several operations, including camps in Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe and in urban settings in Uganda, Senegal, India, and Costa Rica."
Unfortunately, reliable statistics are hard to find because many children with disabilities are "kept hidden."
In South Africa, the UNHCR and local non-governmental groups help refugees by providing material support and making sure refugees know their rights—and schoolmasters are aware of their duty to admit refuge children. In the city of Durban, funds have been contributed to inner-city government schools that will admit any refugee child.
"While no child should be refused education because there's no money, schools have to survive," and the subsidy from the government isn't always enough, says South African UNHCR worker, Mmone Moletsane.
Many refugees choose to flee to South Africa because the country allows them to work and study in local communities while their applications are processed, reported the Radio Netherlands Worldwide today.
According to the UNHCR, South Africa received the highest number of asylum applications in the world in 2010.  This trend persisted through last year, with a backlog of 300,000 applications still in the system.
Most of these asylum seekers are from fellow African countries— Burundi, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia and Zimbabwe. But, some also come from China and India, among others.
Zimbabweans are expected to make up most of the 413,040 persons of concern in South Africa, with 175,000 asylum seekers in the country as of January 2012. By 2013, it is expected that the number of Zimbabwean asylum seekers will more than double.
Among the UNHCR's objectives for 2012 is for the displaced population in South Africa to have  "optimal access to education." Its planned activities include advocacy, early childhood education and help with uniforms and school supplies.

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