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For a full, easy to read introduction to the issue of the education rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, please download the Education Rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants (in pdf), Booklet 3 in our “Education Rights for Learners, Parents, and Educators” series.


This page is intended to be an introduction of resources for learners, parents, educators, administrators, activists, academics, and policymakers concerned with the education rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Therefore we combine legal, academic, and news resources, as well as links to organizations actively and progressively addressing this issue. The information and listing here is by no means complete, and we greatly appreciate any feedback or additions that you can provide.

The Education Rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants in South Africa: Introduction to the Issue
(excerpted from The Education Rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants in South Africa booklet, by Sarah Motha)

At different points in history, South Africa has become home to people from different countries. All too often, the suffering of many of these people is not understood. Even worse, they are falsely blames for problems that exist within our country—problems such as unemployment and crime. The causes of unemployment and its social consequences, such as time, lie largely with the economic choices our government has made and should not be blamed on migrants.

If allowed, newcomers usually add richness in terms of art, clothing, culture, food, literature, and music. Most of the recent arrivals have created rather than taken jobs from South Africans. Although these are important contributions to our society and good reasons to open our doors to new people, there is a much more important reason: refugees, or whatever kind, present us with an opportunity to act with humanity and solidarity.

Most of the people who come to South Africa want their children to attend schools. Yet studies have shown that 30% of refugees in some of our cities are not able to send their children to primary school. Many parents and caregivers cannot afford the cost of education. Many children are denied admission because some schools do not accept their documents. Often, once learners are in school they face discriminatory practices.

“As South Africans we owe Mozambique, Zambia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Angola, and all other African countries a deep debt of gratitude. One of the first countries in Africa to accept South African refugees and exiles was Ghana. After independence Mozambique, Zambia, Angola, Botswana, and Lesotho allowed us to use their countries as a haven for South African refugees. I am deeply ashamed by the events of a black man attacking another because he belongs to a different ethnic group or is a foreign resident living and working in South Africa.” --Maureen Modiselle, MEC for Safety and Liasion, June 2004

The rights to education of of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants include the following:

  • Everyone has the right to basic education including adult basic education. (Section 29 of the South African Bill of Rights)
  • Refugees and their children are entitled to all the same basic health service and basic primary education, which citizens of the Republic receive from time to time. (Refugee Act No. 30 of 1998, Admission of Learners to Public Schools of 2001)
  • Where the needed documentation is not available, the principal must help the parent to obtain necessary documentation. The child must be admitted to the school conditionally while the parent obtains the needed documentation. When the required documentation is not available within three months of the child having been conditionally admitted to the school, the School Governing Body in consultation with the District Officials must attend to the matter by liaising with the relevant authorities and parents. (Section 5 of the Admission of Learners to Public Schools, General Notice 4138 of 2001)
  • A child of a person that does not have legal status may still have to be admitted to a public school as long as the caregiver or parent can provide proof that an application has been made to stay legally in South Africa (Section 21 of the National Education Policy Act of 1996)
  • The principal and the School Governing Body must inform all parents about their right to apply for school fees exemption. The principal has the responsibility to assist parents or caregivers to apply for this exemption. (South African Schools Act of 1996)
  • A district senior manager must establish fast track programmes in his/her district to accommodate learners who:
    a) Have been out of school for such periods as are likely to have impaired their learning opportunities;
    b) Have had no schooling; or
    c) Are three years or more above the age-norm grade. (Section 10 of the Admission of Learners to Public Schools)
  • A learner who lives within the feeder zone of school A must be referred to the neighbouring school B if school A is full. If school B is full, the Head of Department must find an alternative school within a reasonable distance. If that is not possible, school A must admit the learner. (The Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools)
  • Support the learning and teaching of all other languages required by learners, used by communities in South Africa, including languages which are important for international trade and communication. (Section C of the Norms and Standards for Language in Public Schools)
  • Languages other than the official languages can be offered as school subjects. (Section D of the Norms and Standards for Language in Public Schools).

It is against South African law to deny any child an education, foreign or national.

Relevant Laws and Policies

The following South African laws and Department of Education policies form the government’s policy on Religion and Schools.

  1. The 1996 South African Constitution
  2. The 1996 Schools Act
  3. The 1996 National Education Policy Act
  4. The 2001 Admission of Learners to Public Schools
  5. The Norms and Standards for Language in Public Schools (part of Schools Act, Section 6)
  6. Language in Education Policy (1997)
  7. The Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools
  8. UNHCR Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, signed by SA Jan 12, 1996. See Article 22: Public education
  9. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. See Article 14.
  10. African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, South Africa ratified Jan 7, 2000. See Article 11: Education

ERP Publications

Education Rights for Learners, Parents, and Educators, Booklet 3:
The Education Rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants

The Education Rights of Migrants in the Inner City of Johannesburg, South Africa
Joint research report with Khanya College


General Publications and Academic Resources



If you are fighting a violation regarding the education rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, need assistance regarding the specific rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, or are looking to get involved with this rights issue, please contact the following organisations:

  • Education Rights Project at the Wits EPU
    Email: salim.vally@wits.ac.za
    Phone: (011) 717 3076
    Fax: (011) 717 3029
    Mailing: Education Policy Unit / Private Bag 3 / Wits University / 2050
  • South African Rights Commission
    Phone: (011) 484 8300
  • Agency for Refugee Education, Skills Training, and Advocacy (ARESTA)
    Email: aresta@kingsley.co.za
    Phone: (021) 637 8040
    Fax: (021) 633 9022
    Mailing: C/o CRIC / Cnr Springbok & Klipfontein Road / Athlone, 7764
  • Black Sash (National Office)
    Email: info@blacksash.org.za
    Phone: (021) 461 8004
    Fax: (021) 633 9022
    Mailing: 12 Plein Street / 4th Floor / Cape Town 8001
  • Campus Law Clinic
    Durban: (031) 260 2446
    Pietermaritzburg: (033) 260 5976
    Polokwane: (015) 291 5309
  • Independent Complaints Directorate
    Phone: (012) 339 1554
  • Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)
    Email: southern.africa@jrs.net
    Phone: (011) 331 0037
    Fax: (011) 331 0038
    Mailing: 84 Frederick Street / 5th Floor / Omnia Centre / Marshalltown / Johannesburg
  • Johannesburg Refugee Network (JRN)
    Email: sashtraining@blacksash.org.za
    Phone: (011) 834 8361/5
    Fax: (011) 492 1177
    Mailing: P.O. Box 2827 / Johannesburg 2000
  • Legal Resources Centre (LRC)
    Email: contact@lrc.org.za
    Phone: (011) 403 7694/0902
    Fax: (011) 403 1058
    Mailing: National Office / 41 De Korte St. / 7th Floor, Sable Centre / Braamfontein, 2001 / PO Box 157 / Wits, 2050
  • Public Protector
    Phone: (012) 322 2916
  • Refugee Rights Project
    Email: kaajal@lhr.org.za or emmaj@lhr.org.za
    Phone: (011) 339 1960/2
    Mailing: 185 Smith St. / 3rd Floor, Auckland Hse (Cnr. Biccard St.) / Braamfontein, JHB
  • ReliefWeb
  • West Coast Clinic
    Email: rights@xsinet.co.za
    Phone: (022) 486 4221
    Fax: (022) 486 4162
    Mailing: Akasia Avenue / Westbank / Malmesbury 7299 / Western Cape
  • Wits University Law Clinic
    Phone: (011) 717 8562
    Mailing: Empire Road / West Campus / Oliver Schreiner School of Law / Room 132 / Braamfontein, Johannesburg
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
    Phone: (012) 3543 8300/8303
    Fax: (012) 322 0216
    Mailing: 351 Schoeman Street / Pretoria, 0001
  • The Department of Home Affairs

Education Rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants in South Africa