CAPE TOWN - Refugee advocacy groups have welcomed the announcement by the government that Refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa will receive the Covid-19 vaccine jab.
The announcement was made on Monday night, by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his address to the nation.
Ramaphosa said they aim to make the vaccine available to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship or residence status.
“We will be putting in place measures to deal with the challenge of undocumented migrants so that, as with all other people, we can properly record and track their vaccination history,” he said.
The United Nations population division estimates that there were 4.2 million international migrants living in South Africa in 2019. This, it said, represents 7.2% of the country’s total population.
According to Stats SA, the number of foreign-born people living in South Africa in 2020 is around 3.9 million. This includes both the documented and undocumented.
Yasmin Rajah, director for Refugee Social Services Durban, said this showed that the government acknowledges that excluding any community was not good for that community but also impacted negatively on the wider South African community.
“Besides excluding a sector of those who live in SA even if not nationals or undocumented goes against our Constitution. The Right to health, equality and dignity,” she said.
However, Rajah said government must take a chunk of the blame for some migrants continuing to be undocumented.
“The Refugee Reception Offices have also been closed since March 2020 ... so absolutely no service to this community. Blanket extension of docs is appreciated but does little if not communicated to relevant departments. People still having bank accounts frozen, and some being arrested for expired docs, etc.”
According to the Department of Home Affairs spokesperson David Hlabane, the Refugee Reception Centres was scheduled to remain closed until January 31, 2021, or until the Republic of South Africa declares them open.
“All stakeholders, refugees and asylum seekers will be notified when the Refugee Reception Centres are declared open,” he said.
Meanwhile, on social media, some South Africans were not happy with Ramaphosa’s announcement, with some accusing the President of being more obsessed with improving the lives of foreigners than South Africans.
“SA is more obsessed with improving the lives of foreigners than taxpayers. This is a topical issue where one can easily be termed xenophobic. How on earth should an illegal immigrant benefit out of d limited resources at the expense of deserving locals?” said Lucky Mashele.
ActionSA leader, Herman Mashaba, said he was happy that restrictions have been lifted but questioned why South Africa is taking responsibility for the vaccination of undocumented foreigners.
“Overall, relieved with lifting of some measures, but need to understand two announcements: the special recognition of Cuban Doctors when some South African ones are still unemployed and why is South Africa taking responsibility for the Vaccination of undocumented foreigners.”