Print out our 'You and Your Rights: Applying for Refugee Status' flyer


Refugees enjoy all the human rights outlined in the South African Constitution EXCEPT the right to vote. When you have been granted REFUGEE STATUS in terms of section 24 of the Refugees Act, you have the RIGHT to:

  • Apply for a Disability Grant - and a Foster Child Grant - and a Care Dependency Grant.
  • Apply for a Social Relief of Distress Award if you can’t support yourself and your family and you need immediate temporary assistance.
  • Apply for benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund if you have contributed and have a valid work permit.

Print out our 'You and Your Rights: Refugee Rights in South Africa' flyer

Print out our 'You and Your Rights: Refugee Rights in South Africa' flyer in French

Print out our 'You and Your Rights: Applying for Refugee Status' flyer

Print out our 'You and Your Rights: Applying for Refugee Status' flyer in French

Read and print out the information for Zimbabweans wishing to apply for regularisation as part of the Home Affairs Zimbabwe Documentation Project - September 2010

Print out the Dept of Home Affairs form to be used by Zimbabweans wishing to apply for regularisation

Read and print out the 'Refugee Information Guide 2009' produced by Lawyers for Human Rights


Your Rights


Rights for Refugees 

Refugees enjoy all the human rights contemplated in the Constitution except the right to vote

A person who has been granted refugee status in terms of section 24 of the Refugees Act may: 

  • Apply for a Disability Grant and a Foster Child Grant and a Care Dependency Grant.
  • Apply for a Social Relief of Distress Award if unable to support themselves and their dependents and they need immediate temporary assistance. The grant is normally available for a period of 3 months.
  • Apply for benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund if they have made regular contributions to the fund and are in possession of a valid work permit. Contact the Department of Labour on 012 337 1680 to find out more.
  • Apply for benefits in terms of the Compensation for Occupation Injury and Disease Act (COIDA) which makes provision for bodily injuries that are sustained at work. You must have been employed for a period of 12 months and your employer must register you with the Department of Labour. Contact the Department of Labour on 012 319 9111 to find out more.
  • Claim compensation for work done for an employer and have the right to a minimum wage in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. This right is enforceable even before you are issued with a Section 22 or Section 24 permit by the Department of Home Affairs
  • Demand fair labour treatment practice in the workplace in terms of the Labour Relations Act. This includes the right not to be dismissed without a fair hearing.
  • Claim for payment of compensation in accordance with the Road Accident Fund Act for loss or damage caused by the driving of motor vehicles.
  • Open a bank account with any commercial bank. Remember that different banks require different supporting documents such as proof of address (where you stay) and a letter from your employer.
  • Bank with the South African Post Office. If you have a business, remember to submit your South African Revenue Service Clearance Certificate.
  • Enter into commercial contracts and transactions.
  • Access healthcare services including emergency treatment at public healthcare facilities. This includes treatment for HIV/AIDS.
  • Access education at public schools. In terms of the Schools Act and Children’s Act, every child under the age of 16 years or under grade 9 must attend school. It is a criminal offence not to send a child to school. In order for a child to be enrolled to a public school, they need a Section 22 or Section 24 permit from the Department of Home Affairs; proof from a state hospital that their child obtained all the compulsory immunisation; and to complete the school application form. In the event that a child does not have a Section 22 or Section 24 permit, they can use their parent’s Section 22 or Section 24 permit to apply for enrollment to a school.

Obligations for a person who has been granted refugee status

  • A refugee must abide by the laws of the republic.
  • Should always carry their refugee identity document with them.
  • Renew their status every two years (24 months) prior the expiry date prescribed on the status document - renewal of your refugee status will be based on the current conditions in your home country. 


  • Asylum seeker: A person who has lodged an asylum application with the Department of Home Affairs and who is waiting for a decision on refugee status.
  • Department of Home Affairs (DHA): The South African government department responsible for the administration of asylum applications and refugee matters.
  • Durable solution: Long-term solutions to problems experienced by refugees, generally involving movement back to home country or third country of asylum or integration locally.
  • Eligibility determination form (form BI-1590): The form you have to fill out the first time you report to any of the refugee reception offices in the country.
  • Family reunification: The bringing together of members of the same nuclear family with the help of the UNHCR and/or the ICRC after approval by the DHA.
  • Family tracing: The attempt to locate and link up members of the same nuclear family (father, mother, brother and sister) with or without the help of the UNHCR and/or the ICRC.
  • Immigration Act: The new law that has replaced the Aliens Control Act. This law regulates who may enter South Africa and how and also covers deportations.
  • Non-refoulement: The fundamental principle that prohibits states from returning asylum seekers or refugees to countries where their lives and freedoms may be threatened.
  • Permanent resident: A person who has been given permission to live in South Africa on a permanent basis.
  • Persecution: Severe violation of human rights for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group.
  • Prohibited person: A person without any legal documents allowing him or her to stay in South Africa lawfully. It can also cover people who are not allowed in SA such as deportees or people with infectious diseases.
  • Recognised refugee: A person who has been granted refugee status in terms of section 24 of the Refugees Act.
  • Refugees Act No.130 of 1998: Law passed by the parliament of South Africa that governs the treatment of refugees in the country. 
  • Refugee: A person who is forced to flee his/her country due to a well-founded fear of persecution or disasters of human origin such as armed conflicts, civil upheavals and generalised violence.
  • Relocation: An internal transfer of a refugee or asylum seeker from one part of South Africa to another, with the help of the UNHCR.
  • Resettlement: The relocation of a refugee from South Africa to a second country of asylum with the approval of the UNHCR and the country of resettlement.
  • Section 22 permit: Temporary, renewable permit, described in Section 22 of the Refugees Act, which is issued to asylum seekers while they await a decision on their asylum application and allows the bearer to reside in South Africa and to work and study.
  • Section 24 permit: Renewable permit, issued in terms of Section 24 of the Refugees Act, which grants refugee status to the bearer and allows him/her to reside in South Africa for a period of two years.
  • Temporary resident: Person with a legal permit that allows him or her to stay in the country for a limited period of time. Tourists, foreign students and business people would typically apply for temporary residence permits.
  • The Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs: Committee that reviews any refugee applications that have been rejected on the basis of being manifestly unfounded and that provides certification that a refugee will remain a refugee indefinitely for the purposes of applying for permanent residence.
  • Unaccompanied minor: A child under the age of 18 who is in South Africa without the company of his/her parents or guardians.
  • Undocumented migrant: A person who is not in possession of the requisite visa or residence permit that is required to be in the country legally.
  • UNHCR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is an international organisation mandated to provide international protection to refugees and to promote long-term durable solutions to their problems.
  • Voluntary repatriation: Voluntary return of refugee from country of asylum to country of origin.

A refugee is someone who has left his or her own country because .. 

  • s/he has a well-founded fear of being persecuted on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, gender or membership of a particular social group; 
  • his/her life, physical safety or freedom would be threatened on account of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or other events seriously disturbing or disrupting public order in either part or the whole of his or her country of origin;
  • s/he is a dependant of anyone who falls into the above categories. 

Definitions of refugees

The Refugees Act recognises two definitions of refugees: 

  • People with a well-founded fear of persecution: The first definition is taken from the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. It provides protection to persons fleeing their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution by their government or by other non-state actors that the government is unable to stop.  

The term “well-founded fear of persecution” refers to your particular experiences and circumstances instead of the general situation in your country of origin. Your very personal response to the prospect of returning to your country of origin will be assessed together with available information on the conditions in your country of origin to determine whether you will be subject to danger if you are forced to return. 

  • People who fled their country of origin due to threats to the public order: The second definition is adopted from the Organisation of African Unity Refugee Convention and provides protection to persons who were forced to flee because of violence, war and civil disturbances in their country of origin. 

Dependents of a recognised refugee are entitled to refugee status. The spouse of a recognised refugee is also entitled to refugee status, even if his or her individual claim was rejected. 

Who is not a refugee?

You cannot apply for refugee status if you are just looking for a job; trying to further your educatio;  visiting friends or family; or seeking to run a business in South Africa. In these cases, you should apply for either a work permit, or a study or visitor’s visa. 

Who could be disqualified from becoming a refugee?  

You are excluded from refugee status if you:

  • have committed a crime against humanity, a war crime or a crime against peace;
  • have committed a serious non-political crime outside of South Africa; or
  • are currently enjoying the protection of another country.

You could lose your refugee status if you:

  • voluntarily obtain the protection or nationality of your country of origin;
  • obtain the nationality of a new country; or
  • voluntarily return to the country you left in fear and take up residence there with the intention of settling permanently.

You could also lose your refugee status because of events in your country of origin, such as:

  • when there is no longer a threat to you in your country of origin; or
  • if you take on the protection of your country of origin because the circumstances in that country have changed. 

Circumstances in your country of origin must have changed to such an extent that the causes of persecution and thus the risk of persecution no longer exist. The changes must be of a fundamental nature and solutions must be effective and durable. 

Applying for refugee status

Upon entering South Africa, you must request an Asylum Transit Permit in terms of Section 14 of the Refugee Act.  This is issued at the border post and allows you to safely reach the nearest Refugee Reception Office.

You must report to the Refugee Reception Office to complete and submit an Eligibility determination form (form BI-1590). You have the right to be assisted in English when making an application.

Here is a list of documents that may be issued at the Refugee Reception Office:  

  • Asylum Seeker’s Temporary Permit in terms of Section 22 of the Refugee Act allows you to stay in the country for three months while your application is being processed
  • Refugee Status in terms of Section 24 (3)(a) of the Refugee Act
  • Refugee ID in terms of Section 30 of the Refugee Act.
  • Refugee Travel Document
  • Refugee Certification in terms of Section 27 (c) of the Refugee Act to enable you to apply for Permanent Residence Permit

Interview at the Refugee Reception Office: 

You will be interviewed for your refugee status application. In this interview you will be asked to tell your story. You are encouraged to ask witnesses to accompany you to support you or even to get someone you trust who is competent in English to tell your story for you. You must bring with you any supporting documents such as:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Photographs
  • Personal records
  • Research done about conditions in your country, including newspaper articles

You will be notified about the outcome of your application within 180 days.

What happens if an application for refugee status is declined?

You will be given 30 days to submit an appeal to the Refugee Reception Office or to leave the country. In your appeal you must state reasons why you should not go back to your country.

You can appeal on the basis that:

  • The correct procedure for processing your application was not followed;
  • The facts on your application were not taken into consideration;
  • The person who interviewed you was biased.

What happens if your application for refugee status is approved?

  • If your application is successful, you will be granted refugee status and a Section 24 permit that is valid fortwo years
  • You will immediately be issued with a Refugee ID in terms of Section 30 of the Refugee Act;
  • This Section 24 permit must be renewed at the Refugee Reception Office 90 days before the expiry date.

The Refugee ID must contain the following: 

  • Identity number of the holder;
  • The holder surname, full forenames, gender, date of birth, and the place or country where he/she was born;
  • The country in which the holder is a citizen;
  • Recent photograph of the holder;
  • And the holder fingerprints displayed on the permit. 

Can you travel out of South Africa if you have refugee status? 

  • YES! You can travel to another country by using the Refugee Travel Document also known as the UNHCR travel document for refugees.
  • You can apply for this travel document from the Department of Home Affairs at a cost determined by the department.
  • You cannot travel back to your country of origin using the ID book or Passport that was issued by your country of origin. 
  • You could lose refugee your status if you voluntarily return to the country you left, with the intention of taking up residence and settling permanently.  

Applying for Refugee Certification 

Your application to be classified as an “indefinite refugee” should be submitted to the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs.  

You can apply for this status when you have been in the country with a Section 24 permit for more than five years.

If your application is successful you will be issued with a Refugee Certificate in terms of Section 27 (c) of the Refugee Act. This is to confirm that you have been classified as an indefinite refugee.

Applying for Permanent Residence Permit

You can apply for a Permanent Residence Permit after you have been in the country for a period of more than five year and have been declared an indefinite refugee and been awarded a Refugee Certificate in terms of Section 27 (c) of the Refugee Act.

The holder of a Permanent Residence Permit has all the rights, privileges, duties and obligations of a citizen, other than the right to vote.

Withdrawal of refugee status

Voluntary withdrawal by the refugee:

If a person with refugee status wants to voluntarily return to his or her country of origin and believes it is safe to do so, they may withdraw their refugee status at any border post.

A person who wants to return home may be assisted with transport and humanitarian aid by the International Organisation for Migration or UNHCR provided that their home country does not fall under the "principle of non-refoulement" (which is a principle in international law, specifically refugee law, that concerns the protection of refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened).

Withdrawal by the State

Refugee status can be withdrawn in terms of section 36 of Refugee Act only if:

  • The status was granted erroneously on the basis of an application which contained false information;
  • The status was granted as a result of fraud, forgery, false, or misleading representation of material or substantial facts in relation to the application.


You could be detained if you are in breach of the provisions of the Section 24 permit or the Criminal Procedure Act.

Children should not be detained but rather taken to a place of safety while their matter is being resolved. A child in anybody who is under the age of 18, in terms of the Children’s Act.

You have the right legal representation.

You also have the right to appear in a court of law within 24 hours or on the next court date if it is on a weekend or public holiday.

Other Useful contact details:

Cape Town Department of Home Affairs
Refugee Reception Office/ Asylum Determination Offices
5th Floor, Customs House Building
Private Bag X 9031
Cape Town
Tel: (021) 421 1006

Durban Department of Home Affairs
Refugee Reception Office/ Asylum Determination Offices
350 Emngeni Road
Private Bag X 09
Greyville, Durban 4023
Tel: (031) 308 7955

Johannesburg Department of Home Affairs
Refugee Reception Office/ Asylum Determination Offices
19 Planet Avenue, Crown Mines, Johannesburg, Private Bag X11, Crown Mines, 2092, Tel: (011) 2264600/4687: Fax (011) 226 4602, Director Ms Florenzia Belverdere or Mr Lungisa Magazi  

Port Elizabeth Department of Home Affairs
Refugee Reception Office/ Asylum Determination Offices
Cnr Stone and Laurina Streets
P O Box 6030
Port Elizabeth
Tel: (041) 487 1026

Pretoria Department of Home Affairs
Refugee Reception Office/ Asylum Determination Offices
Cnr. DF. Malan and Struben Streets
Marabastad, Pretoria West
Tel: 012 327 3500
Fax: 012 327 0086

You can also contact the Department of Education’s toll-free line at 0800 005 175/0800 202 933 for admission and school fees issues.