Despite some positive steps announced by the South African government, including regarding the non-penalisation of migrants and asylum seekers whose visas expire during the pandemic (see 6 May update), migrants have continued to be arrested throughout the crisis. Some politicians have publicly celebrated these arrests – including Faith Mazibuko, a member of the Executive Council in the Guateng Provincial Government. Reportedly, migrants have been arrested for violating lock-down measures.
While the country has launched a food aid programme, providing supplies to vulnerable citizens in an attempt to mitigate the impacts of the two-month lockdown, the programme requires recipients to possess a national ID card. This has prevented refugees and migrants from accessing supplies.
Human Rights Watch reported in a statement on 20 May, “The South African authorities should ensure that essential goods and services are provided to everyone in need without discrimination. … Special arrangements should be made to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, including refugees, asylum seekers, and the homeless, who may not normally have access to basic goods, including food, water – potable and washing – and health care.” Other countries, like Ireland (see our 29 April update on the country), have put up “firewalls” between agencies to enable undocumented people to access social services during the crisis without risking enforcement measures.
As well as the denial of food aid to non-nationals, many have been unable to access health care. This was highlighted in a joint statement from the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights and the University of Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies. Together, they point to section 27(3) of South Africa’s Constitution, which provides that “no one may be refused emergency medical treatment,” but note that a lack of solidarity with migrants and refugees has been displayed in the government’s response to the virus. “It is not in the best interest of the country if people from a segment of the society are prosecuted when they present themselves for screening, testing and treatment, or if they are excluded from medical and other essential services.”
Significant numbers of migrants in South Africa are reportedly homeless. At the start of the crisis, police rounded up hundreds of homeless persons, transferring them to Strandfontein Camp – a tented facility set up by Cape Town authorities in response to the pandemic. Conditions in this camp were quickly flagged by the South African Human Rights Commission and MSF, both of which documented severe movement restrictions, poor quality bedding, insufficient hygiene levels, and the inability to social distance. Although the facility closed on 20 May, a group of 180 who had been confined in the facilty were reportedly moved at night to an un-serviced site under a highway overpass in Culemborg, central Cape Town.
- Faith Mazibuko, Twitter – 11 May 2020, https://twitter.com/FaithMazibukoSA/status/1259832478094757888
- New York Post, “Thousands Continue to Wait in Miles-Long Lines for Food in South Africa,” 20 May 2020, https://nypost.com/2020/05/20/migrants-and-those-without-id-face-hunger-in-south-africa/
- Human Rights Watch, “South Africa: End Bias in Covid-19 Food Aid,” 20 May 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/20/south-africa-end-bias-covid-19-food-aid
- University of Pretoria Centre for Human Rights and University of Witwatersrand Centre for Applied Legal Studies, “Press Statement: University Human Rights Centres Call on South African Government to Address the Plight of Migrants During COVID-19 Crisis in the Interest of All South Africans,” 15 April 2020, https://www.chr.up.ac.za/latest-news/2044-press-statement-university-human-rights-centres-call-on-south-african-government-to-address-the-plight-of-migrants-during-covid-19-crisis-in-the-interest-of-all-south-africans
- Lawyers for Human Rights, “Strandfontein Homeless Committee Takes on City of Cape Town,” 19 May 2020, https://www.lhr.org.za/lhr-news/strandfontein-homeless-committee-takes-on-city-of-cape-town/
- NRRTT National Rapid Response Task Team, Twitter – 23 May 2020, https://twitter.com/DhsNRRTT/status/1263940690804948997
- Global Detention Project, Ireland Covid-19 update,” 29 April 2020, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/covid-19-immigration-detention-platform#Ireland
- People Affected by the Coronavirus Economic Crisis Line Up to Receive Food Donations at the Iterileng Inroaml Settlement Near Laudium, Pretoria on 20 May 2020, (Themba Hadebe, AP Photo, “South Africa: End Bias in Covid-19 Food Aid,” Human Rights Watch, 20 May 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/20/south-africa-end-bias-covid-19-food-aid)