What is family joining?

Family unification – known colloquially as family joining – means granting refugee status (or asylum seeker status) to dependent family members of a recognised refugee or asylum seeker in South Africa. This is set out at Section 3(c) of the Refugees Act of South Africa. Dependents include spouses, unmarried children and destitute, aged or frail […]

When does dependency arise?

The dependent spouse and children of a recognised refugee or asylum seeker are entitled to refugee or asylum seeker status in South Africa, irrespective of the following: whether the recognised refugee or asylum seeker declared their existence when he or she applied for refugee status and asylum; when they applied for refugee status and asylum; […]

Which documents are needed for family joining?

The family joining process takes place at a Refugee Reception Office. Accessing this service can be tricky, and often several visits to the Refugee Reception Office are needed. Nevertheless, the following documentation should be prepared for family joining processes. Where spouses are concerned, the principal refugee, asylum seeker or the dependent(s) must provide proof of […]

What is the family joining procedure?

To apply for asylum in South Africa, applicants must fill out a ‘B1590 form’ at a Refugee Reception Office. Asylum applicants must list their family members (spouses and children) in this form. If present, these family members can be documented immediately. This article, however, applies to those family members who arrive in South Africa after […]

What was the 2019 court case about?

On 19 June 2019, the Western Cape High Court handed down a Court Order that confirmed successful negotiations between the Department of Home Affairs and civil society. This was in the form of a Standard Operating Procedure: Refugee Family Unification document. You can read the press release about this case here. This case was initiated […]

I have more questions / I am struggling to access family joining. Who can I contact?

There are several organisations working on this issue. Here are the contact details of four organisations: The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town – info@scalabrini.org.za | Tel: 021 465 6433. To access the paralegal team, please come to Scalabrini at 9am on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Please bring all documentation with you, so that […]


SCCT and Others v Minister of Home Affairs and Others (5242/16), 15 December 2017 Legal Resources Centre,  A Practical Guide For Refugees: The Asylum Process in South Africa, p. 2, available at: http://www.probono.org.za/Manuals/Refugee-Manual/2013_06_20_LRC_Asylum_and_Refugee_Guide.pdf


https://hsf.org.za/publications/hsf-briefs/the-right-to-basic-education Ramjathan-Keogh, K. (2017). “Chapter 6: The Rights of Refugee and Migrants Learners”. Basic Education Rights Handbook – Education Rights in South Africa. Section27: Johannesburg. Available here: http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/S27-BE-2017-ch6new.pdf ibid. https://www.education.gov.za/Informationfor/ParentsandGuardians/SchoolFees.aspx ibid. no 3 ibid.

What has been done, in the courts, about this, and what was the outcome?

In Minister of Home Affairs v Watchenuka, the Court found that prohibition of study for migrant children pending finalisation of their asylum status is in conflict with the Bill of Rights of the Constitution (human dignity) especially as it is a general prohibition without guidelines or case by case considerations. “Human dignity has no nationality. […]

What kind of problems are schools facing in terms of admitting undocumented children?

Schools – or school principals – can face severe government fines if they are found enrolling students who lack proper documentation, so many principals can be wary of admitting non-South African students. However, schools may not discriminate based on documentation status in an applicant’s admission. Furthermore, if a student is not admitted to a school, […]

What kind of barriers do non-South African children face in accessing education in South Africa?

Despite the well-defined protections of basic education for non-South African children by the Constitution, case law, and national legislation, many non-South Africans still face unjust barriers in accessing education. The most common barrier is the lack of identifying documentation, such as birth certificates (see our article on birth registration of non-national children in South Africa […]

Do children need an identity document to enroll at a South African school?

Yes – and no. Parents and caregivers of learners should provide any identifying documents currently held, including birth certificates or immunisation cards, but the lack of these documents may not exclude any student from their basic education. Section 11 of the WCED Policy for the Management of Admission and Registration of Learners at Ordinary Public […]

Must non-South African children pay school fees too?

Yes. Parents and caregivers with refugee or asylum seeker status who are unable to afford school fees are eligible to apply for a fee exemption. Undocumented parents may not apply for such an exemption. Fee exemptions may be applied for at any public school, and the process is the same for non-South Africans as well […]

Do non-South African children have a right to education in South Africa?

Yes. Non-South African children, including undocumented, asylum seeker, and refugee status individuals may not be denied access to a basic education in South Africa, in line with national legislation outlined in section 2 above. The right to a basic education for all, regardless of documentation, has been upheld by South African courts numerous times, in […]

What does the law say?

The right to education has been recognised under a number of international conventions and national laws, including in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the South African Constitution, the Refugee Act of 1998, and the South African Schools […]


The right to basic education is a fundamental human right according to international and national law. Education is a vital tool in the empowerment of children, the protection of democracy, the promotion of human rights, and the fight against poverty. The right to basic education also applies to refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented or stateless […]

I have more questions, who can I ask?

There are several organisations working on this issue. Here are the contact details of three organisations: The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town – info@scalabrini.org.za | 021 465 6433 Lawyers for Human Rights – Musina: 015 534 2203, Durban: 031 301 0531, Pretoria: 012 320 2943, Johannesburg: 011 339 1960 Legal Resources Centre – info@lrc.org.za | […]


Parliament Gurshwyn Dixon 021 403 3771 | gdixon@parliament.gov.za Vhonani Ramaano 021 403 3820 | vramaano@parliament.gov.za Organisations Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) 010 021 0572 | ruraldemocracytrust@gmail.com Centre for Child Law 012 420 4502 | centreforchildlaw@up.ac.za Children’s Institute 021 650 1473 | info.ci@uct.ac.za Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) 021 685 8809 | […]

It’s not too late to effect change!

Go to public hearings on the Bill. Write to government, Parliament, and provincial legislatures. Tell the media and people in your community about the Bill. Share your story!

Why should you be concerned?

After changes by Parliament the Bill is again UNCONSTITUTIONAL. It will take us back to the 2008/2012 versions that the people and majority of provinces rejected. Now the Bill: Has no provisions allowing for individuals to opt-out or participate voluntarily in traditional courts. Rejects the consensual nature of customary law and procedures. Makes traditional courts […]

What positive changes were in the 2017 Bill when it was introduced to Parliament?

Initially the 2017 Bill recognised the consensual, voluntary and living nature of customary law. It allowed people to opt out of traditional court processes. Important protections for women and vulnerable groups were included, and the different levels of traditional justice systems were acknowledged. BUT many of these improvements have now been undone by Parliament.

How did provinces vote on the Bill in 2014?

Against: Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo, Western Cape Abstain: KwaZulu-Natal Support if specific changes are made: Free State, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West The provinces all proposed changes that contradicted each other.

Problems with 2008 & 2012 versions of Bill

Jurisdiction of traditional courts based on apartheid-era Bantustan boundaries. Imposed a separate legal system on people living in the former homelands. Ignored the voluntary and consensual nature of customary law. Centralised power in senior traditional leaders. Did not address discrimination against women, children and other vulnerable groups. Prohibited legal representation, even for criminal matters. Allowed […]

A history of the Bill

April 2008: Introduced in the National Assembly. June 2011: Bill withdrawn due to public concerns about the Bill’s content and lack of public consultation. January 2012: Introduced in National Council of Provinces. Triggers nationwide campaign to stop the Bill. 2014: Bill fails to win majority vote by provinces and lapses at time of national elections. […]