Covid-19: This is not the time to discriminate against migrants, say human rights centres

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File photo: Police escourt refugees, who were living in the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town, into buses. (Jay Caboz, Business Insider SA)
File photo: Police escourt refugees, who were living in the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town, into buses. (Jay Caboz, Business Insider SA)

The Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand are deeply concerned about migrants in South Africa.

As the country fights the coronavirus pandemic, both centres are calling on the government to "empathetically" make a commitment that no undocumented migrant will be prosecuted when they present themselves for testing or be excluded from the service.

They want the government to ensure that non-nationals in need are not discriminated against in the set provisions of food aid and other essential services.

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The centres are calling for foreign nationals, including undocumented migrants, not to be discriminated against and singled out during the densification of informal settlements and other overcrowded areas.

They also want migrant women and young girls, who may be trapped at homes with abusers, to be encouraged to call the gender-based violence (GBV) command centre. 

Exclusion

In a joint statement, the two organisations said they were reiterating that the exclusion of any segment of society from access to testing, treatment and other palliative measures would undermine national efforts to stem the spread of the virus.

They also called for the government to be guided by Section 27(3) of the South African Constitution, which stipulates that "no one may be refused emergency medical treatment". 

The organisations said: "It is not in the best interest of the country if people from a segment of society are prosecuted when they present themselves for screening, testing and treatment, or if they are excluded from medical and other essential services.

"Covid-19 does not discriminate in whom it targets and affects, and the mode of transmission and contraction of the virus does not discriminate on the basis of the nationality of the carrier and the infected person."

They say for the government to achieve its objective of flattening the curve of the virus, everyone within South Africa must be given adequate access to information, medical treatment and other essential services, regardless of nationality or immigration status.

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