Undocumented migrants and vaccination in South Africa question

Pretoria – Several NGOs, including Lawyers for Human Rights, have called on the government not to forget undocumented people living in South Africa in its Covid-19 vaccine rollout programme.

Lawyers for Human Rights, Global South Against Xenophobia of the Covid-19 People’s Coalition, South African Human Rights Defenders Network and others, have called on the government to transparently reveal its vaccine rollout strategy, as required by its international and domestic human rights obligations.

These groups said they were concerned about the present lack of clarity and transparency regarding vaccination of, among others, undocumented people in South Africa. This included whether the process to access the vaccine would be restricted to a South African bar-coded ID.

They are calling on Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize “to come out clean” on this issue, and to spell out the full rollout strategy for the Covid-19 vaccine to reach all people living in the Republic.

They feel that the “unclear” and “sometimes contradictory communication” in this regard places at risk the public’s confidence and trust in the vaccine and its rollout. It also risks exclusion of significant portions of local and non-local populations from vaccination access, they say.

“Many South African citizens and non-citizens alike simply lack access to documentation that would be required for vaccine access,” they said in a letter addressed to the government this week.

The group feel that government’s strategy should be inclusive and enable maximum public participation and democratic accountability to ensure full and equal protection of the human rights and safety of undocumented locals and non-locals, including marginalised and disadvantaged groups such as the LGBTQI community.

They said clarity was essential in countering potential disruptions to vaccine rollout, including xenophobia, and preventing unjust and unconstitutional exclusions from vaccine access.

While they acknowledge the government’s efforts to procure Covid-19 vaccines, these NGOs said they were worried that it would not be made available to everyone, especially those without valid documentation.

They said many South African citizens and non-citizens alike simply lacked access to documentation that would be required for vaccine access.

Poor and working class black women, particularly in the rural areas, are likely to be most affected. Vulnerable and marginalised groups such as certain LGBTQI persons are often also prevented from accessing documentation because of restrictive policies and realities that inhibit their access to identity documents reflecting their gender, they said.

Evidence shows that there were 15.3 million people without identification documents in South Africa in 2018. This figure includes both citizens and residents who do not have ‘proof of legal identity’.

The NGOs said the lack of access to documents already effectively meant exclusion of nearly a quarter of the population from State services and benefits they were constitutionally entitled to.

They referred to a recent interview by Mkhize in which he said there was as yet no plan as to how to deal with those who were not documented regarding the vaccination, and the fact that the government was silent on how to deal with this issue.

“We therefore call on the Covid-19 task force to immediately clarify vaccination arrangements for undocumented people. This will clearly signal the government’s commitment of the vaccine as a human right for all, and its full investment in curbing the pandemic,” they said.

Another movement called the Migrants Movement believes “there is a high possibility that migrants would be sidelined, as many undocumented migrants would be scared to submit themselves to the registration process that might be used to later prosecute them”.

They are calling on philanthropists and the UN to support the South African government in facilitating more funds and resources to enable the vaccine to reach unprivileged migrants who are in South Africa.

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