Silence on Foreign National Assistance is Loud, Clear (and Worrying).

We need unity, NOT toxic nationalism.

I moved to South Africa from Zimbabwe when I was 7 years old. In 2008, the country was gradually disparaging and many families like my own moved – not based on uncomplicated autonomy, but because the then crumbling Zimbabwe decided it for them. The concept of immigration has been one of much contention for me since then. Most of the memories I have from that period are riddled with fear of leaving home and fear of this unknown territory I had only known from news showcasing an anti-immigrant state. 

From the putrid physical conditions of the boarders, the difficulties of the migration process to the trauma enveloped in being a foreign body… The list of why immigration remains an excruciatingly sensitive one for any foreign national is endless.

The Inefficient Meets the Illogical.

Due to COVID-19, thoughts of immigration have resurfaced on my mind. The reason is simple: When faced with a non-discriminatory biological threat, it is not absurd to assume that the levels of prejudice and mistreatment of foreign bodies will become commonplace. In many countries it will come under the guise of ‘containing’ the spread of this disease.

“The terror associated with being an immigrant… prevents many from being screened”

Consequently, since lockdown began, I have been a resident of the Google search engine bar, typing in an anxious flurry to see what the government’s plans are regarding lockdown alongside immigrants in South Africa. Unsurprisingly, this topic has been left essentially unaddressed. For a middle-class individual like myself, this would not be an issue at least for the time being (in terms of accessibility, monetary security, and adequate shelter). However, this is not the reality for the majority of immigrants living in South Africa. Especially now. 

When the lockdown began, the government put in measures to curb the number of infections. Admittedly, it has worked quite well especially considering how more economically advanced nations are just not coping.  Now with the government’s mission to “Curtail, contain, and control” – after having observed how their efforts are seemingly successful- I find it severely illogical to handle the issue of immigrants in the irresponsible manner that they have been. 

… And in Enters Nationalism. Again. 

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases made it a prerequisite for all who want to submit the COVID-19 specimen submission form to have a South African ID or passport number. With this, it automatically excludes an overwhelming majority of migrants.

The reality is, many migrants are undocumented or only managed to attain asylum permits.  The reality is, the majority of this immigrant demographic do not have appropriate housing, live in informal settlements (which have not been improved even remotely to facilitate for national recovery from this global crisis), barely have access to basic needs for the duration of this lockdown and – most importantly- cannot get relief aid.

“SA government [has created] internal borders that barricade immigrants from basic healthcare or financial support.”

In an interview with Hassan Khan, CEO of The Haven Night Shelter Welfare Organisation (who are providing daily meals to foreign nationals made homeless during the pandemic) stated that the City of Cape Town “is not extending its concern to the foreign nationals on our streets”. Cape Town now being known as a hotspot for COVID-19 should be a major concern for the government. However, Khan explains that “No other level of government seems to be responsibly dealing with this vulnerable group”.

Moreover, the terror associated with being an immigrant- especially one without the correct documentation- prevents many from being screened thus adding to the risk posed by this demographic being left unattended to.  It should not have to be explained how this has detrimental effects on the government’s attempt to flatten the curve. But this does help bring to the forefront what foreign nationals may be facing during this indefinite lockdown and highlights the negligence that comes with nationalist tendencies.

“Government [is] only extending the living trauma immigrants are expected to endure.”

And yes, this is an example of nationalism’s ventriloquist-esque control over how humans conduct themselves when faced with something we could have never seen becoming a present reality. We are met with human error and prejudice which have caused the SA government to generate internal borders that actively barricade immigrants from basic healthcare or financial support. Sadly, these are not new experiences for members of the African diaspora. 

Anything to Say, Uncle Cyril? 

South Africa is one of Africa’s immigration epicenters. On a yearly basis, the numbers of foreign nationals increase exponentially. The reasons for one’s emigration are extremely vast. In the cases of most moving from within Africa, the reasons can usually be listed down to three: political unrest, economic instability, and war. Basically stated, these are people running from countries that cannot provide them with their basic civil rights. So, when we then reassess what is currently being left unsaid and unacknowledged by the government, they are only extending the living trauma immigrants are expected to endure. 

Days before South Africa closed its borders to neighboring countries, around 13 500 Zimbabweans returned home, and even then a queue stretching 7km consisted of people who did not manage to exit South Africa during the allotted time. The reasoning stated by the Zimbabwean ambassador to South Africa, David Hamadziripi, for the repatriation of these 13 500 people is the “hardships some of [our] nationals are facing”. What immediately springs to mind is the nation these individuals would be repatriated into. The same nation that the likes of my family exited in an attempt to gain access to the kinds of amenities that are so scarce to the point of non-existence.

To avoid some sort of ‘we are the world’ rhetoric, I will refrain from diving into the humanitarian – and even historical – reasons why this is clearly indefensible and irresponsible. The effects of the government’s choices speak for themselves. It is, however, worth noting that this – although the better path in the eyes of the government – is not only the groundless path but also the destructive one. 

Featured Images: Chad Nathan on location in Wingfield, for the Refugee Relief Fund. Featured

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