“There can be no justification for any South African to attack people from other countries.” -President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Africa was the last continent to be affected by the COVID-19 trajectory. The pandemic; however, quickly spread across the continent, and most African governments are struggling to curb it. Currently, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Africa is South Africa, specifically the Western Cape. Against this backdrop, the Western Cape now accounts for 60% of the country’s total COVID-19 cases. South Africa is the second-largest economy in Africa after Nigeria. As such, it is the dominant actor in the SADC region. South Africa’s enormous economic development makes it Africa’s most giant magnet for immigrants. Therefore, South Africa is a regional hub of many immigrants. Migrants are people who migrate from their countries to settle on new territory. The projected number of migrants in South Africa is approximately 4 million out of a total population of more than 50million. The main source of migrants in South Africa is neighboring countries. Of note, 70% of the migrants comes from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique. Recently, the estimated number of infections in South Africa toped 35,812 death neared 755 and 18,313 recovered (Wordometer, 3 June) As such, the South African government embarked on robust measures to contain the disease. These include social distancing, travel restrictions, cancelled public gatherings lockdowns and curfews.
The lesson drawn from other countries informs us that the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran led to chaotic conditions. Resultantly, almost 200 000 Afghan immigrants in Iran have returned to Afghanistan because of either fear of the pandemic or lost jobs. The migrants used border channels as well as irregular means. However, more than half of the returnee tested COVID-19 positive. Food security with regards to migrants, has been a significant concern in India amidst COVID-19 pandemic because subsidized food is for citizens. Additionally, in Myanmar, more than 63, 000 emigrants have returned from Thailand and China, adding to the already weak health delivery system. Social distancing also means reduced access to services and necessities. For instance, in Italy, many programs related to assisting migrants were suspended, as the government focused on fighting COVID-19. On the note, in Libya, refugees were removed from aid. Against this background, a few immigrants have also decided to return to their countries from South Africa. These include more than 2680 immigrants from Zimbabwe.
History informs us that the 1918 Spanish flu claimed more than 650, 000 lives in the US. The immigration process was widely affected as immigration stations adjusted to cater for the requirements of people who arrived affected with influenza. There was a surge in the cases of flu at the New Orleans Immigration station, and some of the detained immigrants developed symptoms. In most instances when pandemics happen migrants, refugees and disabled people are usually more exposed. During the financial crisis of 2007-8, migrants lost their jobs and some returned to their home countries. The levels of remittance and support of communities and families dropped drastically, such as in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. Remittances dropped because the majority of the migrants used to depend on lower-income jobs such as mines and farms. During the Cholera Pandemic of 2009 in Zimbabwe, South Africa was affected by imported cases of cholera from Zimbabwe. The World Health Organization 2009 reported that there was absent of cross-border health policies between the two countries to control the cholera outbreak in 2009. Despite all these past challenges the Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa are not exempt from the COVID-19 trajectory.
Migrants around the globe have become more vulnerable to COVID-19 and increased poverty. Migrants are one of the most exposed group and easily forgotten in global epidemics. Noteworthy, as governments concentrate on fighting the outbreaks, migrants are usually the losers in the most global crisis. Many migrants were struggling to make ends meet since most of them worked in informal work. Also, the majority of migrants live in crowded places with no access to clean and safe water. Some areas in South Africa are loaded with migrants, and most of them lack basic structures. However, the IOM is worried about the likelihood of an outbreak inside these facilities. As such, social distancing is challenging to implement in such a scenario. Worse, migrant’s short-term contracts make them more vulnerable to economic shocks. The majority of the immigrants are left with no income as they work as waiters and drivers, some transport services and restaurant were closed hence left incomeless. Shops who were owned by South African nationals could be allowed to open as well as receive compensation for losses incurred; however, migrant’s small businesses were not included. Therefore, migrants struggled to raise enough money for rent. Above all, South Africa has been struggling to impose effective hygiene and social distancing in its crowded and most impoverished neighborhoods. However, the majority of the migrants reside in these areas. Thousands of Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa are failing to have access to assistance. Nearly 6,854 migrants are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Migrants in Gauteng are heading home, raising the risks of the pandemic. The IOM South Africa is assisting the return of 400 out of nearly 4,500 vulnerable migrants in South Africa. For example, conducting medical checks, facilitating pre-departure arrangements, as well as travel arrangements. More than 13,000 Zimbabweans diaspora in South Africa returned home and are required to stay in the selected isolation centers for 21 days. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the emigrants to the financial crisis. In fact, the majority of the migrants have fled Zimbabwe political turn oil and financial meltdown since 2000 to South Africa. The Zimbabwean migrants were faced with a difficult decision of coming back to Zimbabwe to face again the challenges that forced to migrate in the first place. However, some of the migrants who returned from South Africa have escaped the isolation centers exposing Zimbabweans to the COVID-19 epidemic.
Despite, evidence that border wall does not stop COVID-19 pandemic, the US and South Africa have increased the security of their borders. President Donald Trump has revealed that the US required wall than ever, especially in the Southern Border with Mexico. On the same note, South Africa has long been willing to reduce irregular migration from neighboring countries, specifically Zimbabwe which threatens local jobs. South Africa announced that it was to erect a 40km-fence at Beitbridge Border with Zimbabwe. Beitbridge Border Post is one of the busiest border station in the SADC region. The reason for the fence was to control illegal or infected migrants. Some of the illicit migrants are fleeing from the dysfunctional Zimbabwe in anticipation of greener pastures in South Africa.
On a positive note in South Africa, everyone, including migrants enjoys free primary health care services and emergency services. South Africa has announced regulations that any foreigner has permission to remain in the country legally. As such, migrants are kept safe, and it minimized the chances to cross the border via irregular routes. South Africa possesses a good record of welcoming migrants as well as living in harmony with them. For instance, President Cyril Ramaphosa has discouraged any xenophobic attack against migrants and encouraged locals to treat migrants with respect and dignity. The International Labor for Migration and the embassy of Zimbabwe in South Africa launched a COVID-19 Humanitarian Appeal to respond to the needs of stranded migrants from Zimbabwe. In KwaZulu-Natal Province and Pretoria, UNHCR have been working with NGOs to identify and assist marginalized people such as migrants and refugees. Resultantly, food handouts were distributed to almost 20 000 vulnerable people. Furthermore, South Africa began to ease lockdown restrictions and currently on Alert -level 3. People cango shopping wearing masks, restaurants can open, but gatherings remained prohibited. Some Zimbabwean immigrants in Cape town united, mobilized resources through social media and are assisting each other to pay rent. In addition, they are also helping each other to buy food during these difficult moments.
Migrants are usually victims of any circumstance, such as global pandemics and natural disasters, no matter how hard the host government tries to protect them. The study recommends that the South African Health Department should ensure that the right of access to health services to all and existing legal frameworks are upheld. Undocumented migrants should also be considered and provided with accurate information, health services and humanitarian aid. The Zimbabwean government is encouraged to come up with long-term policies that will solve the political and economic challenges currently facing the country. It will control unnecessary migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa. The COVID-19 epidemic responses and mitigation measures in Africa must also consider the migrants, refugees and internally displaced people.