[PRESS STATEMENT] Urgent Litigation on Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant

Date: 17/06/2020


Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) supports the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Towns’ urgent litigation to include asylum seekers and special dispensation permit holders in the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant. The case was launched by Scalabrini on 22 May 2020 at the Pretoria High Court and will be heard on 17 June 2020.

The Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant is the amount of R350, available from May 2020 to October 2020 for people affected by Covid-19. The grant is only available for South African citizens, permanent residents, or recognized refugees. Asylum seekers or any other kind of permit holders are excluded from accessing the SRD grant. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are not only experienced by citizens, refugees or permanent residence but also by foreign nationals within the South African borders who are  destitute and faced with the same need for social relief. There is no basis for the exclusion.

Public interest legal organisations set up a legal support hotline (+27 66 076 8845) intended to assist with queries related to rights violations during the lockdown. However, many of the calls LHR has received are from foreign nationals excluded from the SRD and in desperate need of social assistance. The foreign nationals excluded from the SRD have limited options to fend for themselves as many of them have no access to their bank accounts because of expired permits, many are not working and the process for them to access UIF is longer due to their kind of documentation. These people are part of our fabric of society. Everyone, whether in a formal job or not, contributes to tax. To then exclude them from social assistance purely based on documentation status/nationality creates the impression that they are in some way inferior to citizens, and less worthy of social assistance.

The exclusion of foreign nationals from SRD grant is unlawful as it restricts people’s access to basic needs solely based on their immigration status. The exclusion puts an already vulnerable group in worse conditions. Sharon Ekambaram, Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme manager said “In a pandemic, if you and I want to be safe we have to think of everyone who makes up South African society – including those on different types of documentation.” The South African government has a duty to ALL people within its territory especially in such times where people have limited access resources. LHR firmly supports for the inclusion of asylum seekers and other special permit holders to the SRD grant and will be at the Pretoria High Court on 17 June 2020.

For further information, please contact:

Sharon Ekambaram

Manager: Refugee & Migrant Rights Programme

sharone@lhr.org.za