Having no home

Imagine having lived in a country for the majority of your life or having been born here and still not being recognised as a citizen of this country. This place is the only city, people, streets and languages you know. Yet, you are still considered other.

In the lead up to World Refugee Day, my colleagues and I have been working with young people who are stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Being stateless essentially means that you are not recognised as a citizen under the operation of the laws of a country – you are a citizen nowhere. Conflicts in citizenship law and practice perpetuate statelessness – it is preventable.

One of the young people we have been working with was born in South Africa to a parent who holds refugee status. She was removed from her parents’ status at age eighteen, a process known as de-linking. She has since had to make her own asylum application which is currently under review. She explains the barriers she faces without having an identity document: “Without an identity document, simple tasks like banking, schooling, obtaining a driver’s license and finding employment become impossible. I plead that the only place I have known as home accepts me.”

A process in South African citizenship law provides a legal pathway for this young person called citizenship by naturalisation. The young person we are assisting applied for this in 2019. No outcome has been received to date. This has been compounded by the closure, since March 2020, of the citizenship section in the Department of Home Affairs. As organisations and activists, we are advocating against various legal barriers and the processing of these applications. There is more that needs to be done.

Having worked with these young people, I have thought deeply about the importance of hospitality and dignity. Beyond legal provisions and human rights provisions which promote inclusion and equality for marginalised groups, how can our value of hospitality be used as resistance? Hospitality beyond pleasantries. Christine Pohl’s in her book, “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition”, points to this in saying : “Especially when the larger society disregards or dishonors certain persons, small acts of respect and welcome are potent far beyond themselves. They point to a different system of valuing and an alternate model of relationships.”

As we commemorate World Refugee Day on Sunday, 20 June, we can reflect on our practice of hospitality. I encourage us all to think about whether our practice of hospitality involves respecting the dignity and equal worth of all people? Do we recognise their contributions or potential contributions, not only of those embedded in our communities but also those on the margins?

*In commemorating Youth Month and World Refugee Day, The Jesuit Institute, in collaboration with Jesuit Refugee Service and Lawyers for Human Rights, will be hosting a five-week campaign called This Is Home – documenting the lives of young people who are stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Follow # ThisIsHome for more information.

Abigail Dawson

Abigail Dawson holds a Masters in Development Studies, Sociology, from the University of Witwatersrand. Her activist and academic interests have focused on migration in a South African context. She is a qualified social worker and has provided counselling for migrant women and children. She hopes to bring change to the current public and global narrative on migration through effective and creative communication, networking and advocacy to ensure equitable communities for all people living in South Africa.

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