Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts




Dr. Belinda Dodson


Although refugees and registered asylum-seekers have a legal right to work in South Africa, research shows that prevailing anti-immigrant attitudes and South African employers’ suspicion of these migrants’ documents makes employment extraordinarily difficult to acquire. This thesis investigates how, in the face of such challenges, forced migrants in Cape Town secure their day-to-day livelihoods. The research is based on semi-structured, open-ended interviews with thirty-two refugees and other forced migrants who live and operate in the Cape Town area, as well as five key informant interviews with employees of refugee service organizations. It also draws from literature on both South Africa’s refugee rights policies and its informal economic sector. Findings show that even to survive, participants must use a wide ‘portfolio’ of tactics – including moving between formal and informal sectors and drawing upon ethnic and community connections in order to locate work and gain a toehold in the South African economy.