Emmanuel’s Optimism and Hope

Jean Guy Kwuimi, Project Officer, CWS South Africa | May 21, 2016

Johannesburg City Center

Rush Hour on Von Wiellig Street in Johannesburg, South Africa. Asylum Seekers like Emmanuel need to find their way through this multicultural urban landscape each day.

Emmanuel has spent much of his thirties seeking asylum in South Africa. He is now 40 years old, and regularly renews his asylum seeker permit that allows him to live, study and work in South Africa. He has had to continually renew his permit since he began his application, almost five years ago in 2011.

Since he arrived in South Africa and settled in Johannesburg, Emmanuel has become accustomed to living week by week. Despite his high level of education, work in South Africa is still hard to come by. Back home he was working as a teacher of philosophy, religion and the French language; for now, he is studying at the University of Johannesburg to obtain a Masters in environmental ethics.

To get by, Emmanuel relies on support from family members, which in turn helps him with the basics: housing, food, and transport. Getting a job was a great challenge for Emmanuel. He says the labor market is difficult for asylum seekers and refugees, “The asylum seeker status limits my chances to get a job”, says Emmanuel, even if asylum seekers and refugees are legally entitled to work.

Emmanuel is one of the beneficiaries of the pilot phase of the Urban Refugees Self-Reliance Program, or URP, run by Church world Service in Tanzania, Rwanda and South Africa. He took part in the initial job orientation workshops held in April 2015 and has been selected to benefit from case management services.

Emmanuel was able to write out his own work action-plan, focusing on finding employment that utilizes his strengths and education. Some may say that he was dreaming big given the high unemployment and alleged level of discrimination present against asylum seekers and refugees in the labor market, yet Emmanuel still wanted to strive to go beyond securing an entry-level job.

Starting with the basics, Emmanuel worked with CWS staff to enhance his job-search skills, including how to craft a CV/resume and cover letters. As the job hunt continued, Emmanuel also started to consider the need to find an entry-level job in order to support himself while looking for employment that would fulfill his academic aspirations. While applying, CWS was able to assist Emmanuel with interview preparation techniques, and he shortly landed a waiter position in a one of Johannesburg´s restaurants.

Emmanuel worked as waiter for a few months, but after enduring repeated encounters where his supervisor’s xenophobic attitudes were on display, he resigned. He is still hopeful however, and even with a few months salary was able to finance some of his basic needs, including food and transport. He hopes to be able to find better opportunities when he completes his master’s degree, but in the meantime he continues to live as many asylum seekers do, without a durable long-term solution.