The Constitution of South Africa states that everyone has the right to have access to health care services. The Refugees Act, which sets out the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa, states that refugees have the same right to access health care services as South African citizens. This right is interpreted widely to include asylum seekers. The Immigration Act, however, states that staff at health care facilities must find out the legal status of the person before providing health care (except in an emergency).
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to health care services is critical. Civil society organisations have urged government to create a firewall between health care services and immigration services during this time, in order to encourage as many people as possible to access testing and treatment.
The government initially issued contradicting statements on whether refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented, irregular or stateless migrants would be included in the vaccination roll out strategy until the President confirmed in an address to the nation that the vaccine would be made available to all “regardless of citizenship or residence status”. The President further pledged to implement “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”. The vaccination roll out has commenced and the online registration portal is accessible to those with a South African ID number, a passport, a refugee permit or asylum seeker permit but it is not accessible to those who are undocumented or have no proof of legal identity. Civil society has urged the government to be more transparent and to provide more detail on the “measures” to deal with undocumented people as contemplated by the President. Civil society has further called for meaningful and adequate participation in the government’s plans.
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