One of the proudest moments of my life was getting a job with CWS RSC Africa in Pretoria, South Africa. In 1996, when I was eight years old, I fled Somalia and began living in Ethiopia. I was in the town of Jijiga and went to boarding school in Addis Ababa. In 2008, upon completion of secondary school, the school requested I hand over all school property, which included my student identification card. The card was my only identification document. Without it, I was undocumented in Ethiopia.
My options were few. I could join my mother in Hargeisa in the self-declared autonomous region of Somaliland in Somalia, where Somali nationals like me were considered foreigners.
I could head to southern Somalia, where Al-Shabaab – al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia – was in control.
I could flee to South Africa.
South Africa sounded like the best choice, as refugees were accorded rights to employment and education. I arrived in South Africa in July of 2009 and registered with immigration officers in Musina, a border town between South Africa and Zimbabwe. I was given a 14-day permit to apply for refugee status at one of five Refugee Reception Offices in the country. At the RRO in Port Elizabeth, I was given a three-month temporary asylum seeker permit, which I easily renewed several times before being granted refugee status in 2010.
If I were to apply for refugee status today, it would be very different. The government has changed its immigration policies, with the likely intent of discouraging immigrants from coming to South Africa. In 2014, 88 percent of applications for refugee status were rejected. RROs in Durban, Musina and Pretoria’s Marabastad office are the only three offices that accept new applications. It has also been extensively reported that refugees and asylees seeking assistance in these offices widely experience graft, with refugees claiming to have money extorted from them as they wait in queues to renew their documents.
As a refugee, it is rewarding to work for an organization as accountable, transparent and anti-fraud focused as CWS Resettlement Support Center Africa. The integrity with which CWS RSC Africa conducts its operations is a value I aim to uphold in the work that I do. As a refugee and as an employee, I am grateful.
Abdikani Hassan is an Administrative Assistant with RSC Africa.