In response to the growing needs of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa, the Law Clinic created a Refugee Rights Unit (RRU) in 1998 to offer much needed legal aid and advice for this target group. Today the RRU is operationally independent from the Law Clinic. The RRU has expanded its vision and, in addition to the legal aid practice, it also includes an academic programme for undergraduate and master's students as well as a research unit. The Unit offers two courses to students which are run in the Department of Public law. Thus LLB students are given the opportunity to study refugee and immigration law, and master's students have the opportunity to study refugee law and human rights, thus awarding students an opportunity to study and discuss current issues facing refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa.
The Unit has a facility for research and publication, thus creating avenues for the evolvement of refugee law issues in South Africa. Furthermore, the Unit is an instrument for advocacy, whereby legal assistance is offered to the general public when necessary.
Over the past four years RRU has been involved in many academic research initiatives of others, such as assisting the Wits Forced Migration Studies Programme in their research on gender-based refugee claims, assisting Human Rights Watch in their research on Zimbabweans' claim for refugee status on the basis of the state's failure to ensure the socio-economic rights of its citizens, and working with the Refugee and Unaccompanied Foreign Children Programme in collaboration with the Department of Home Affairs, Social Services, the Red Cross (Tracing Officer) and the Children's Court. This latter project included the development of a practical and sustainable Standard Operating Procedure for dealing with this vulnerable category of migrants. The end result was the publication of a training manual by the Refugee Rights Unit for relevant parties.
The Unit was initially funded solely by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) when it became a legal implementing partner of UNHCR. Today the unit is funded by UNHCR, Atlantic Philanthropies and the Sigrid Rausing Trust.