Canada contributes to workshops in support of refugee rights

Refugees picket for better services.

Refugees seeking assistance outside the Refugee Rights Centre offices.

Women refugees learn how to access government services.

Canada recently helped out the Refugee Rights Centre, an NGO at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth and the only organization in the Eastern Cape dedicated to assisting and providing legal advice to asylum seekers and refugees.

This small team provides assistance to a vulnerable group who often arrive in South Africa traumatized, destitute, unable to speak the country’s languages and unaware of their rights.

Canada’s CAD$15,000 helped the Centre deliver workshops to educate refugees and asylum seekers on their rights and obligations. Workshops also targeted governmental service providers, law enforcement and other refugee community stakeholders.

Refugee and Asylum Seekers

Workshops for refugees and asylum seekers focused on access to services such as health, employment and education; their rights if they are stopped, arrested or detained by the police, or if a crime is committed against them; and their obligations under residency permits. 

“I’m happy that my children are going to get birth certificates and I’m also excited that they have a right to education and can go to school.”

Some workshops were given specifically to help refugee women deal with the poor treatment and discrimination they often experience in hospitals, with the police and in public.

“There was a lot I didn’t know about human rights. Now I can proudly say I know my rights and my children’s rights.”

Service Providers and Stakeholders

The Centre also provided workshops for public officials in law enforcement. Junior police officers learned about the arrest, detention and deportation of asylum seekers and refugees and their rights, while senior police officers were given information about the refugee and immigration acts.

Stakeholder forums addressed the criminal justice system and legislation affecting refugees and asylum seekers. Many participants, which included government staff providing services to the refugee community and various refugee groups, expressed reservations about the benefits of such a workshop, but changed their attitude by the end of the day.

“This was such an eye opener. Had I known this, I would have acted differently,” stated one government official.

“Upholding the principles of human rights is important to Canada. We help empower some of the most vulnerable people when we support projects that provide essential information and services .” – Gaston Barban, High Commissioner of Canada to South Africa.

Canada’s contribution came from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives—a program that supports small projects by local NGOs and other grassroots organizations.