Why are migrants being excluded from SA’s response to Covid-19?
As humanity is faced with increasing global emergencies, now more than ever, we must all contribute to solutions: for good, and for the good of all people. In the Wits Impacts For Good podcast series, Eusebius McKaiser engages in conversation with Wits Originators, forward-thinking researchers from Wits University, interrogating problems and seeking robust and impactful solutions, backed by leading research.
Meet Jo Vearey — the Wits professor fighting not only for the inclusion of marginalised African migrants in South Africa's Covid-19 response but also for their protection as a wave of xenophobic violence sweeps through the country.
In the midst of a global public health emergency, South Africa is grappling with a chronic case of xenophobia that is threatening access to the public healthcare system for marginalised African migrants.
Under South Africa's National Health Act, it is unlawful to refuse migrants access to healthcare. However, the reality is, African migrants are being denied access to government hospitals by frontline healthcare workers solely based on their nationality or immigration status in South Africa.
This is known as medical xenophobia — a term used to describe negative attitudes of South African healthcare professionals towards African migrants.
It’s politically inconvenient to see foreign migrant individuals who are not considered citizens by the documentations they hold, as being part of society, as contributing, as being positive because the failures of the state needs to find a scapegoat.Jo Vearey, Professor and Director — African Centre for Migration & Society at University of the Witwatersrand
Xenophobia is deeply entrenched within the socio-economic fabric of the South African people — a once marginalised people whose misdirected anger and frustrations is a symptom of the failure of the state to address the fundamental issues plaguing our beloved country.
What is it about the stories that we tell ourselves as South Africans that result in so many false beliefs around migrants?
In a time of pandemic, the false belief around African migrants as carriers for infectious diseases has further fuelled the xenophobic rhetoric that seeks to exclude refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants from participation in South Africa's national response to Covid-19.
The disproportionate exclusion of African migrants from accessing testing, contact tracing and medical treatment for Covid-19 undermines the government’s efforts to control the spread of the virus and raises the risks of a surge in coronavirus infections among migrants, demonstrating why South Africa needs to actively engage all foreign migrants in its response to Covid-19.
We've moved from a prevailing norm where we have the state framing foreign migrants as these diseased bodies who are to blame for poor health, bringing disease into the country but, once we do have a pandemic that is linked to infectious disease, suddenly we're not looking at that group anymore.Jo Vearey, Professor and Director — African Centre for Migration & Society at University of the Witwatersrand
Through her impactful research, Professor Jo Vearey is committed to ensuring that the voices of African migrants are heard by policymakers at all levels.
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