Refugees look for shelter from the rain under a tree next to the tent they live in in Bellville. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
Refugees look for shelter from the rain under a tree next to the tent they live in in Bellville. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Vulnerability of SA refugees amid Covid-19 pandemic a key issue

By Sukaina Ishmail Time of article published Jun 21, 2020

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Cape Town - The plight of refugees and migrants in the country during the Covid-19 pandemic has come under the spotlight.

A webinar on Thursday highlighted the challenges they are experiencing as the national borders remain closed and foreigners are unable to return home.

World Refugee Month, which was celebrated on Saturday, raised the importance of discussing the almost 300 000 refugees in South Africa deemed an extra burden on the country’s health resources.

University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Vivian Besem Ojong said: “The Covid-19 lockdown has enforced further vulnerabilities on refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants because they were not prioritised.

"The primary response is to usually focus on its citizens and when the borders closed, governments mainly put focus on their own residents.”

Ojong said as many as 20000 Mozambican mineworkers were recently able to go home, but many were still unable to leave due to expired permits or frozen bank accounts.

“We need to know what can be done for this group of people during this period as inequalities still exist as to how migrants are handled in their country of immigration,” she said.

Yasmin Rajah, director for Refugee Social Services Durban, added: “There is still a huge number of refugees/migrants without documents, not because they were not abiding by the law, but because they couldn't get to the refugee offices during this time.”

Rajah said the government may also not have had the capacity to supply every refugee with their necessary documents.

“Prior to the pandemic, there were already issues of refugees coming into the country,” she added.

Ojong said the human rights of refugees have been compromised more so than ever before, and the government should ensure adequate management of the resources.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Refugee Agency, has also asked countries to do far more to find accommodation for millions of refugees and others displaced by conflict and unprecedented events.

According to the UN’s Global Trends report released yesterday, it showed that forced displacement now affected more than 1% of humanity, or one in every 97 humans.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said: “People cannot be expected to live in a state of upheaval for years on end, without a chance of going home, nor a hope of building a future where they are.

"We need a fundamentally new and more accepting attitude towards all who flee, coupled with a much more determined drive to unlock conflicts that go on for years and that are at the root of such immense suffering.”

@Sukainaish

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Cape Argus

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