Angolans who declined voluntary repatriation and opted to remain in South Africa have been issued with special permits instead of permanent residency.

About 1300 former Angolan refugees will be granted the Angolan Special Permits (ASP), which are valid until 2021.

Thousands of Angolans were granted refugee status in South Africa in the 1990s after they fled Angola’s 27-year bloody civil war which left more than half a million people either displaced or maimed.

However, in May 2013, the South African government terminated the refugee status for Angolans on the basis that their country’s civil war had ended and issued an offer to repatriate them. Those who chose to remain were issued with Angolan Cessation Permits valid for two years.

They then approached the Home Affairs Minister for permanent residency through an ‘exemption’, an aspect of the Immigration Act that allows the Minister of Home Affairs to grant permanent residency ‘when special circumstances exist’. Under this aspect, the minister can grant the rights of permanent residency for a specified period. She granted the Angolan former refugees a period of four years.

A refugee rights advocacy group, Scalabrini, said while the new permit offered a measure of relief to the Angolans who had been in “a precarious legal state” since 2013, it did not resolve the issue of what would happen after 2021.

Scalabrini's Charlotte Manicom said the Angolan former refugees still faced fear and insecurity and no explanation was provided for the four-year period for the validity of the permits.

“This could be as part of the special dispensations that the SA government is rolling out to South African Development Community (SADC) nationals such as Lesotho or Zimbabwean nationals. Angolan former refugees, however, fall into a rather different category as they have been in SA since the late 1990s,” she said.

But Home Affairs said the ASPs were approved by former minister Hlengiwe Mkhize in 2017 and the department had considered various options before arriving at a decision for ASP. But no details of the options were given.

A spokesperson for Home Affairs, Thabo Mokgola, said the conditions attached to the special dispensation of the permits included that they would not lead to permanent residence as well as no change of conditions in South Africa.

The status of children born to foreign parents has also not changed.

In South Africa, parents have to have the legal right to stay to register their child’s birth, which has been problematic for foreigners for whom getting a valid permit is not simple, leading to children being denied abridged birth certificates.

For the Angolan former refugees awaiting their ASP permits, it has not been possible to register their child’s birth, but once they have an ASP permit, they can apply for a late registration of birth.

Mokgola said children born to former refugees were issued with a handwritten birth certificate that reflected particulars of both parents.

The refusal by Home Affairs to issue unabridged birth certificates is regarded by human rights advocacy groups as a denial of children's rights.