JOHANNESBURG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In the hallway of a big, brick-faced rental block in Johannesburg, Halima Jawahir greets her tenants, a group of six Somali women drying their henna-painted hands in the sunlight streaming via the home windows.

After fleeing ongoing civil battle in her native Somalia in 2016, Jawahir is now reinventing herself as a assets wealthy person in the Mayfair community in Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city.

She rents an entire building of more than a hundred residences from a South African landlord, before sub-dividing them into rooms, and subletting them to different especially Somali and Ethiopian refugees.

But as a refugee without documentation, Jawahir is also breaking the law by means of subletting apartments – a risk worth taking, she said, to shop up sufficient to one day personal her personal belongings.

“I am a widow, so I need to appearance after myself,” said the forty five-yr-old, adjusting her green hijab as she sat at the sofa in her 2d-ground flat.

The United Nations estimates that at the least 30,000 Somali refugees stay in South Africa.

The country is wrestling with a massive backlog of asylum applications, in step with human rights businesses, leaving many refugees ready months or maybe years for the authorization to work, pass to school and locate a place to stay.

Faced with this felony and financial uncertainty, some Somali women are challenging social norms and navigating the male-dominated assets marketplace in the hope that, in the future, they’ll have the safety that includes owning a place of their very own.

Jawahir’s constructing is considered one of approximately a dozen properties in Mayfair which might be being rented and then sublet by Somali refugee ladies, in keeping with the Somali Community Board of South Africa.

For renters, subletting presents a strong source of income, and for his or her tenants it is often the simplest manner they could afford a place to stay, said Jawahir.

This is particularly genuine for refugee girls, a lot of whom are jogging their families and elevating their children on my own as they wait in limbo to be granted refugee status.

“Undocumented migrants do now not qualify for government housing or subsidies and the impact of this overburdens mothers,” said Tiffany Ebrahim, a researcher at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, a human rights company.

“And the personal (housing) market is inaccessible because it is so highly-priced, forcing people to fall back on answers which might be transient with little protection of tenure.”

Jawahir, whose name became changed to guard her identification, stated that “as refugees and as girls, we’re continually hustling”.

FLEEING FROM HOME

Jawahir left Mogadishu for South Africa in 2016, after men robbed her at gunpoint at her domestic, killing both of her dad and mom.

“One bullet is still in my elbow,” she said, pointing to scars throughout her legs and arms. “It makes it difficult to lift heavy matters.”

Once she turned into settled in Mayfair – a community so popular with the Somali diaspora that it is known as Little Mogadishu – Jawahir took the identical path as other female Somali refugees within the place and installation her personal commercial enterprise subletting apartments.

To complement the rental profits, she uses her contacts in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and East Africa to import perfumes, rings, honey, and shoes to sell in each store and markets in Mayfair. She also sells cellphone credit score to passersby.

At the top of every month, Jawahir stated she sends approximately $350 domestic to her own family in Mogadishu, the Somalian capital.

Any extra money is placed aside for future wishes, which include the possibility of at some point buying the belongings she now rents out.

“If my husband became alive, he might be satisfied for me,” Jawahir stated. “Look at me, I am alone but empowered. I did this all by myself.”
‘A DREAM FOR MANY’

Although subletting is legal in South Africa, doing so without proper documentation showing asylum or refugee status may want to cause evictions – for both the unique tenant and the subletter, Jawahir explained.

And many haven’t any other option, cited Abigail Dawson from the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa.

“We discover that it’s miles less complicated for plenty to fly below the radar, as the manner of becoming ‘legal’ is such difficult work,” she stated, relating to the backlog of refugee reputation appeals no longer yet processed via the authorities.

The Department of Home Affairs and the South Africa Human Rights Commission were now not to be had for comment.

For Somali girls in South Africa, lots of whom lack a simple education and have no legitimate job potentialities, the risk of subletting to others is well worth it for the risk to sooner or later own their own domestic, said Omar Muhammad from the Somali Community Board.

“Many of them (Somali refugees) can not even speak English, so have little freedom to locate opportunities outdoor their community,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in his workplace in Mayfair.