To elaborate on the reopening of borders and how migrants must be treated, we are joined by Wits University Associate Professor and director of the African Centre for Migration and Society, Jo Vearey.
Wits University Associate Professor and director of the African Centre for Migration and Society, Jo Vearey, said non-citizens often experienced discrimination when trying to access public healthcare facilities. Vearey said another concern for this group would be documentation. “This is linked to issues around documentation and around misunderstandings between healthcare providers, particularly at the very front lines, receptionists and clerks for example. “This means an individual’s documentation can be misunderstood, demands are incorrectly made for documents, and this can also lead to further fears for someone who might have an irregular status and whether or not this could lead them into getting into trouble.” Different forms of documentation should be used for identification and not just an identity document, said Vearey. “We need to also ensure that we are not requesting frontline healthcare workers to work as immigration officials. This is something that we increasingly see globally, and it is something that there has been tension around in the South African context for a while.”
Jo Vearey, director of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand, said one of the key issues linked to confidentiality, anonymity and the protection of people was to ensure that regardless of someone’s legal status when they come for the vaccine, this information is not fed to the Department of Home Affairs or the South African Police Service. “I’m thinking that we may need to return to the oversight role and the legal reviews that took place when the initial test and trace processes were rolled out earlier last year, with the ways that there were guarantees of data protection and ensuring that data was only linked to the traces processes … I am thinking we will need something similar.” Vearey said the blanket extension of asylum-seeking permits would need to be clearly communicated and everybody involved with the delivery of vaccinations should be made aware of that.
"I'm very concerned that we will see either formal or de facto discrimination against undocumented migrants when it comes to vaccine access," said Jo Vearey, director of the African Center for Migration and Society, a research institute.
Interview with Face to Face, CitiTube.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to many countries closing their borders and instituting lockdowns, has left many citizens stranded across the globe. Last week, reports from the Malawian border with Mozambique, said over nine buses ferrying Malawian repatriates from South Africa, has crossed the Mozambique side of the border into Malawi, but are now stranded in no-man’s land. Authorities on the Malawi side have apparently not given the go-ahead and clarity, whether the repatriates should be let free to join their families or get tested and quarantined first. Meanwhile the International Organisation for Migration says thousands of African migrants are stuck in their countries of destination.
People from other countries may be reluctant to present for testing or to report contacts that hold an irregular documentation status for fear of arrest. We need a blanket amnesty to ensure that all in South Africa feel safe to participate in testing and for effective contact tracing.
VIDEO: Unfiltered: Coronavirus ACMS Associate Professor Jo Vearey was recently part of an interview panel on the SABC News Unfiltered talk show that discussed migration and Covid-19 in South Africa. You can watch the conversation here.
As Europe shuts down in response to the spread of COVID-19, other African countries are just beginning to grapple with the early signs of the pandemic. In this show, we discuss the COVID-19 response in South Africa, where an impending winter, a long history of the HIV-AIDS pandemic, and xenophobic attitudes are combining to generate some surprising and unexpected responses to the crisis. Leading Public Health specialist, Professor Jo Vearey chats to Abbey Steele and Darshan Vigneswaran. Click here to listen to the podcast.
Urgent measures are required to ensure we include all foreign migrants – not only tourists and international travellers from high- and medium-risk countries – in our response to Covid-19. There needs to be assurance that, regardless of their current documentation status, no foreign migrant will face any sanctions when engaging with state authorities, including when seeking healthcare or being included in contact tracing. Without this, our efforts to reduce the spread of Covid-19 will fail.
Whether the apparent lack of consideration of foreign migrants is a result of their continued exclusion in public health planning, or due to the initial cases of Covid-19 identified in South Africa being imported from outside of the African continent, is irrelevant. Perhaps the tables have turned and recognition of the ways in which international tourist travel can be associated with the spread of infectious diseases has been brought to light, challenging and perhaps even silencing, at least for now, the pervasive blaming of foreign migrants for the health challenges faced in South Africa.
An effective response to South Africa’s coronavirus outbreak is an inclusive response.
This keeps migrants safe and it keeps everyone in South Africa healthy. It reduces the need for people to cross the border through irregular routes that may not only be dangerous but do not have the healthcare workers needed to screen people for the new virus.
Effective management of this public health crisis will involve all of us. This would truly be a case of, what Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi recently called, “international solidarity”.