MENTION: Migrants left vulnerable by Covid-19 pandemic, studies show
African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS, Wits University) director Professor Jo Vearey was recently mentioned in this article recommending that government’s Covid-19 vaccine programme strategy include everyone – even migrants to ensure better success.
Migrants living in South Africa were largely left vulnerable by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic because of where they live and the lack of employment.
Recent migration research conducted on the movement of migrants and refugees during the Covid-19 pandemic shows that the government could have better responded to the influx of migrants at South Africa’s borders.
These were some of the comments during a migration and Covid-19 Statistics SA webinar on Thursday.
When the country went into a lockdown in March last year, many of the country’s land borders were closed to migration and this had a steady impact on the movement of people, research conducted by Statistics SA show.
The biggest example of this impact was seen in December and January when migrants, who wished to move in and out of South Africa, flocked to borders causing what could have been deemed as a super-spreader event.
Jo Vearey, a Wits professor focused on migration, said much of the focus of the government on movement was largely based on goods and services and not on people.
She maintained that there was little focus on people, some who were drivers of various economic activity in the country.
Vearey further said because the response was informal, this largely led to large numbers at borders, where people were required to wait for hours with little access to water, sanitation – leaving the room open for a possible super-spreader event.
Covid-19 amplified the economic and social issues faced by migrants, Vearey said.
As a way forward, she recommended that the government’s Covid-19 vaccine programme strategy should include everyone – even migrants to ensure better success.
Princelle Dasappa Venketsamy, a researcher at Stats SA, said another highlight for the Covid-19 pandemic was the stark labour and economic differences it brought for migrants in South Africa.
Research shows that many migrants come to South Africa for work, the country has quite a diverse economy which drives migration, Venketsamy said.
As a result of this migration and seeking job opportunities, many migrants were also heavily subjected to xenophobic narratives that accused them of stealing jobs.
This has always been an inaccurate narrative, Venketsamy said, especially because data showed that migrants remained quite vulnerable.
The data shows that more than 40% of employed migrants have no employment contract. This leaves them vulnerable and the closure of businesses during the highest levels of the lockdown last year showed that many were left without an income.
Venketsamy explained that many migrants could not benefit from social efforts such as the UIF Ters benefit scheme because they did not contribute – about 55.6% work in jobs that do not provide them with this UIF safety net.
A research survey conducted by StatsSA comparing the vulnerability of migrants and non-migrants to Covid-19’s impact also showed that migrants were more vulnerable.
The vulnerability indicator used measured unemployment with about 22.5% being vulnerable because of employment. About 7.8% were at risk because of being older than 60, 7.2% were employed in the informal sector and 4.5% as a result of living in dwellings
Venketsamy highlighted that in future, better evidence-based discourse and narratives are key, especially on the plight of migrants.