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Apr. 27 (GIN) – The practice of denying children without visas or with refugee parents admission to South African public schools has helped foment the current rash of xenophobia, critics of the practice say.

Jean-Luc  Ntumba from the DRC, a father of three, said he was unable to enroll his children in public schools. “They could not even give a reason why they could not take my kids,“ he said in an interview with the BBC. “I’m not happy with that. Because we also have rights to education for our kids.”

A provision in South Africa’s constitution gives everyone the right to a basic education, but some children of asylum seekers and refugees are still turned away.  Two years ago, South Africa-based Lawyers for Human Rights and the Centre for Child Law sued the government over the plight of eight minor children from the Democratic Republic of Congo struggling to attend South African public schools.

While the case was won by the lawyers’ group, the ruling was not enforced. “We’ve written letters,” said Neo Chokoe of Lawyers for Human Rights, “and we have not seen them complying with the court order.” A new lawsuit on the issue is planned, she said.

The privately-run Albert Street Refugee School, run by teachers from all over Africa, has been seeking full approval by the Education Department since 2008. William Kandowe, the school’s head teacher, expressed frustration. “This is how xenophobia starts,” he complained to the BBC. “They always threaten to close us down. When they say we don’t have fire escapes, we find donors to put fire escapes. When they say we don’t have libraries, we find donors to put libraries.”

“They just don’t want to say we are closing you down because you’re foreign nationals.”

Launched by Methodists, the school provides instruction from grades one through 12 for some 600 refugee children.

The right of refugee children to attend school has been raised by groups including the UN Refugee Agency and the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg which found that schools often demanded documents to enroll a child which are not legally required.

A 2013 report published in the Africa Education Review questioned whether South Africa could meet its Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal education if refugee children are not schooled.

“Refugee children have limited opportunities to secondary education and experience many problems accessing primary education because of their refugee status,” said the report.

The South African study is symptomatic of the global refugee experience, the report’s authors wrote. The Second Millennium Development Goal will not be realized unless the education of refugee children is taken seriously. w/pix of Zimbabwean children in South African school

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