UNDOCUMENTED WOMEN SELL THEIR BODIES TO FEED CHILDREN DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Tumelo Waga Dibakwane, senior journalist with NewsHorn, addresses these heart-breaking issues which he shares with our readers.

BEING a documented citizen, (holder of an ID, passport or visa,) anywhere in the world, opens up opportunities for basic and further education, jobs, healthcare and other avenues across a variety of areas which could lead to a sustainable living situation.

In 2011 Omary Mogeri (33) came to South African from Tanzania on a tourism visa 2011. She was in search of a job to fund a planned trip to the UK where some of her family members resided. “But things fell apart when the person who was supposed to assist me disappeared with my money. I was forced to look for odd jobs and ended up selling my body for a living.

 

I don’t even remember how many times I have tried to apply for asylum at SA Home Affairs. My passport expired long ago and then got lost during the xenophobic attacks,” Mogeri said.

“I have two daughters who are also not registered although their father is South African. We are still trying to get those papers. My biggest challenge is the fact that we have very limited access to certain things. During the lockdown, things became very tough because my boyfriend is unemployed and we depended on selling snacks at the taxi rank but when that was closed down, we had nothing,” she said.

 

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic, life was extremely difficult. At times she confesses, she would sneak out of the house and sleep with other men to earn money to buy groceries and diapers for her baby. With her dream of going to the UK shattered, she is now prepared to return to her own country, but cannot afford it.

Omary Mogeri is one of an estimated 2.5 million migrants living in South Africa. she has 2 children who are also not registered.

 

In 2010, Chris Ajayi (45)left his life in Nigeria to attend the Soccer World Cup and he’s never been back since. Since part of his plan was to “start over” in South Africa, he applied to renew his visa and apply for permanent residency. When that failed he applied for asylum, but all his applications were denied.

 

“I have tried on several occasions to apply but I was denied even though I have managed to get a job in a restaurant in Melville, Johannesburg.  But I was forced to run away and find a hiding place in Mpumalanga. I was tired of paying bribes to officials who would come to my workplace or home wanting more money,” he told NewsHorn.

 

Ajayi says his eldest child was refused admission at the entry to school on several occasions due to a lack of a birth certificate. “During the lockdown, we used to go to bed on empty stomachs because I couldn’t work as I own a haircut shop in one of the corners in Bushbuckridge town, and salons were not allowed to do business. I have tried to apply for food parcels and social grant relief, but because I did not have papers so I was denied,” he said.

 

However, with the assistance of kind community members, the boy is back at school.  Being a documented citizen, (holder of an ID, passport or visa,) anywhere in the world, opens up opportunities for basic and further education, jobs, healthcare, and other avenues across a variety of areas which could lead to a sustainable living situation.

Abdul Kareem (48)from South Sudan had been in SA for the past 13 years. He initially came here on a tourist visa in 2008 which had long expired. Even though his children are also stateless and undocumented, he has simply given up on getting papers. He is also not prepared to return to war-torn Sudan.

 

“I have lost thousands while trying to get registered but SA Home Affairs had failed me and my kids. Even though two of his children had passed matric, with the situation as it is, they cannot further their studies. “I have tried to send them back to my country, but we are hampered by a language barrier and the fact that they do not have papers,” he said.

 

He added that they are currently depending on their spaza shop for an income. However, that is not doing well and the COVID-19 epidemic had also affected them as they could not claim a small business grant or obtain any financial help from the SA government.

 

Dagai Bento (38) from Angola said she has accepted that she would live the rest of her life as an undocumented person in SA. “I had tried everything to get papers over the past 12 years I had been in the country, but had no luck.

 

Another victim of the xenophobic attacks taking place in SA at the time, she also ran away from Gauteng and relocated to Mpumalanga where she is running a salon and hired locals to work.

 

“I have paid officials, including police, who promised to get me papers, but until today I have nothing. I have two kids with a man who is also unregistered because I was smuggled into SA and my husband arrived on a tourism visa,” Bento said.

 

“We met while I was at home and both applied for tourism visas, but only he was approved. Once he landed in SA, he smuggled me into the country via Mozambique. As soon as I got to Gauteng, I went to Home Affairs trying to apply for asylum, but it seemed to be in vain as until today I had received nothing.” She said

 

During the xenophobic attacks, her salon was thrashed and she lost everything. After having worked at many odd jobs, she now runs a salon in one of the villages in Mpumalanga where the family is living with two unregistered children.

 

“The pandemic has affected us very badly because even now our business is struggling a lot and we are not getting any assistance, but what kills me inside daily is the fact that my kids will grow up without any papers,” she concluded.

 

There are various ways immigrants, (also called aliens), could find themselves in a new country with hopefully better prospects. It is no different for those fleeing to SA from war-torn areas in the rest of Africa. Many have been displaced and feared for their lives. As many cannot afford to go the legal route, the little monies they had were often lost to unscrupulous smugglers, police, and home affairs bureaucrats’ promise to get them across borders but disappear with their money.

 

Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has a right to a nationality and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or denied the right to change his nationality.

In addition, Article 24 of the Internation Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that every child shall have the right to be registered immediately after birth, have a name, and acquire a nationality.

 

A 2020 report by Human Rights Watch found that the South African government and law enforcement officials throughout the country failed to ensure justice for foreign nationals including illegal immigrants.

 

The report said in coordination with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) police conducted abusive “documentation raids “in areas where most non-nationals reside to verify their legal status while beating them. The human rights watchdog says while South Africa’s 2019 plan to combat xenophobia, racism, and discrimination marked an important step towards recognising and addressing these abuses, it has not ensured accountability for xenophobic crimes.

 

South African Department of Home Affairs spokesperson, Angel Khanyile, told NewsHorn that if a visitor or tourist had exceeded the allowed 90 days, it meant they were now illegal citizens and would face a fine.

 

“The visitor or tourist who overstays a visa becomes illegal in the country and must pay a fine for it. The amount of the fine depends on the duration of the overstay. There is a harsh penalty that an individual will have to pay if his visa is expired. If there is some genuine issue, the visitor must visit an embassy or consulate for the visa extension. It is the only way to prevent this penalty. In this way, they can get an extension of 60 days,” Khanyile explained.

But getting legal documentation, which was fairly difficult only, got worse during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Especially for Abdule Kaeem, a South Sudanese immigrant who has lived in South Africa for the past 13 years.

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