Working in a paralegal team for asylum seekers and refugees
My name is Flaminia De Felicis. I am 23 years old and I am from Rome. I recently graduated from the Master’s degree in Human Rights and Multi-level Governance at the University of Padua. My career choice was inspired by the idea that human rights together with social and cultural cooperation, institutions, rules, and policies are fundamental components for the creation of a harmonious and tolerant society. I am particularly interested in migration studies: migration has always been part of mankind and ergo is something neutral, while categorizations of migration as something “positive” or “negative” solely depend on political circumstances. During summer 2019, I had the incredible opportunity to work at PASSOP (People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty), a community based, non-profit, human rights organization devoted to protecting and fighting for the rights of asylum-seekers, refugees, and immigrants in South Africa. Based in Cape Town, PASSOP is a small organization, but with a huge impact on the South African community.
There are an estimated 3.5 million immigrants in South Africa. They are frequently the poorest and most desperate individuals in the country. To be legally-settled, most immigrants must apply for asylum, but submitting an application is largely impossible because of the widespread corruption and the inefficiency of the refugee reception centres. Consequently, a large share of immigrants living in South Africa is undocumented, which allows the government, employers and the society as a whole to violate their rights on a daily basis, leaving them seemingly without recourse.
Before leaving Italy, I was excited and scared at the same time. The first few weeks in Cape Town were not easy. The people I was sharing a house with alarmed me about the unsafe conditions of the city, and during the first day of work I had the feeling that the job was too hard for me. But after a few days of working, especially with the help of other interns, I figured out my tasks, and began applying what I had learnt in the Refugee Human Rights Protection course. As an intern, my job required me to be part of the paralegal team and to support asylum seekers and refugees. Often, an asylum application gets rejected because the Department of Home Affairs does not recognize the applicant as a refugee. The most challenging aspect of my job was, while writing appeals, asking the applicants questions. Knowing the various reasons why people fled their countries (mainly neglect for political rights and social discrimination) gave me the opportunity to listen to their unique personal stories and to understand the major difficulties faced in other African countries, like Zimbabwe and DRC. Besides that, PASSOP works with the LGBTQ community, and created a safe space for LGBTQ people to support and encourage them to get tested for HIV/AIDS. My task on the matter was to raise awareness about the rights of LGBTQ people, through PASSOP’s social media and advocacy campaigns.
The overall experience at PASSOP has had its pros and cons. On one side, I had the opportunity to look closer at the work of a non-profit organization, learning how to fundraise and how to increase community-engagement. On the other side, the NGO lacked precise organization and I did not always have a clear task to pursue. Above all, the experience helped me figure out what I would like to do in my career, i.e. empowering human beings and supporting those who are struggling to have their human rights respected. Now I am even more aware that many people do not know and understand their rights. For example, in Cape Town many employed migrants did not ask for an employment contract because they were too scared and they were not conscious about having the right to. For this reason, raising awareness on human rights through education is the field that I would like to explore, specialize, and work in the future.
Written by Flaminia De Felicis
Edited by Giulia Rosina
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Flaminia De Felicis is a postgraduate human rights student, committed to empowering human beings and increasing human rights awareness through education. Follow Flaminia's story on Instagram @flamdf and Facebook @Flaminia De Felicis.
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