On May 1st 2020, The Southern Africa Migration Network (SAMIN), representing various organisations working on Migration in the SADC region, organised a webinar that brought together the core team of SAMIN members in SADC countries, to discuss the challenges facing migrants and refugees during the COVID-19 and mobilize efforts across sectors and SADC countries to deal with the complexities and uncertainties of the COVID-19 on refugees and migrants.
The objectives of the webinar were among others to:
Assess the current complexity of the migration factors and actors in SADC countries
during the COVID-19
Discuss the fundamental rights and obligations of migrants, migration management
and protection of migrants and how they are applied in various SADC countries
during the COVID-19
Share best practices and discuss ways to work together
Discuss on how to interact with policy makers to advocate for the rights of migrants
and refugees during the pandemic and post COVID-19.
The meeting started at 11:10 AM and was moderated by Joseph E Maniragena, a youth
activist and Development Practitioner.
In his opening remarks, Dr Ken Mutuma, Africa Unite Board Member, welcomed all
participants and thanked them for availing themselves though it was a public holiday; Dr Mutuma described Covid-19 as the most serious health emergency in generations and said it will have adverse effects on livelihoods but when it comes to Migrants, it will be worse. He reiterated that SAMIN should be a learning organisation which can be able to adapt due to various circumstances such as the pandemic of Covid-19. Dr Mutuma reflected on challenges being faced by grassroots communities and mostly Migrants and Refugees who don’t get support from host governments. He ended his intervention citing some of the Africa Unite interventions such as at how they are looking at supporting with food parcels for families facing starvation.
The next speaker was Dr Jean Pierre Misago, a researcher with the African Centre for
Migration & Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witwatersrand who shared with
participants some of the work being done by the ACMS during this time such as measuring various policies being declared in SADC countries to contain the pandemic and their implications to refugees and migrants; Some of their findings confirm that migrants are being discriminated when it comes to support such as food parcels or health services; they have also noticed increasing in wrongful arrests; and when it comes to undocumented migrants, for them it is worse; no one is caring for them; Dr Misago concluded saying that for the public health to succeed there is a need to include everyone otherwise you will be harming your own people, because once a refugee is infected, the pandemic will not select who is next to catch it. He also asked SAMIN members to find out if there is any specific intervention to stop the Covid 19 into refugees’ camps for countries that have camps 19 but also how are refugees surviving.
Father Rampe of the Jesuits movement shared some good experience; he said that the
University of Kimwanza in DRC had produced a ventilator which will help hospitals in the area for people in the hospital needing ventilator. Also the university has come up with gel disinfectants used to clean areas. In Zambia and Malawi, they have just appointed a Focal Point to coordinate their actions; they will also be using a local radio to disseminate information on Covid-19 using mainly local language; and in Zimbabwe their Silverer House which is a vocational school will embark on making masks.
Dr Callixte Kavuro, Academic and Lawyer at RDTJ speaking on Refugees in South Africa said that in principle government agree that refugees should be protected but does little to protect them.
Serge who joined from DRC shared with the participants that nothing specific was being
done in DRC and feared that once the pandemic outbreak get into the North of the country, will make more damage as there was even war going on even now. There is little if not any national authority and wondered who will care for those infected. He made a plea for SAMIN to seriously look into how they can come to rescue of refugees in DRC mainly North Kivu.
Dr Sibanda Vusumuzi, the Chair of the African Diaspora Forum spoke on the issue of Truck drivers who transport essential goods and food in SADC and who were being mistreated once they cross borders on the other country; he warned that if this is not resolved it can have a dire consequences on countries economy as well as food security.
Dr Sibanda called on the Network to intensify calls for support for migrants and refugees as the winter is kicking in things may be difficult without clothes for winter.
Dr. Janet Munakamwe spoke on the issue of the UIF ( SA) an d noted that even the ILO has issued a statement about it saying that migrants are being excluded despite them having contributed. She will invite the ILO official in our next webinar to share some perspecives on the issue as well other issues regarding migrants workers and lockdowns.
José Muianga shared the experience in Mozambique and called the Network to also
consider the issue of violence against women during the pandemic.
Participants dicussed and analysed the situation around refugees and migrants during the crises of COVID 19 in Southern Africa. Issues discussed include:
i. Different interventions by government tend to leave out Refugees and
migrants in relief strategies on both economic and social relief funds in many
Southern African countries including South Africa on Food relief, testing and
screening, access to social welfare especially for workers and unlawful
retrenchments as in the case of drivers from Zimbabwe.
ii. The team advised on long term implications on some decisions made by
governments like the building of fence in Zimbabwean border.
iii. No government has declared any stand for refugees living in camps
iv. Disease mishandling upon information release to the public and containment
of the disease in most SADC countries like the DRC and Botswana respectively.
Due to lockdown its difficult for most lobbying and advocacy work to be done, team
discussed on ways to have public interventions which has to be inclusive so as to challenge government to listen and rectify situations. Also coordination of people and groups that are willing to support those who are in desperate need.
Participants agreed on the following key actions and urgent tasks moving forward:
o Formation of SAMIN COVID-19 Task-team which will cover two themes: one on
humanitarian component including social and economic issues and the other on
Legal component which will focus on documentation and evaluation of legal
barriers. Task members to highlight specific issues with evidence based information.
o Form SAMIN COVID-19 task-team dealing with legal and humanitarian components the Secretariat will assist in forming them as well as help them to meet online
o Coordinate groups organizations and individuals who are willing to support refugees
and migrants on food relief
o Write proposals on how migrants are treated in different countries during the crisis
of Corona virus, evaluate/analyse situations come up with both moral and legal
o Create a WhatsApp group for SAMIN members to allow for timely communication
because not everyone can access their email during lockdowns.
o Ask government for permit for SAMIN as network to work during the lockdown
All in attendance had agreed that during times of crisis we should rally together, defend the defenseless and remain resolute of our cause after the crises is overcome.