May 11, 2010

MSF is expressing grave concern for the health and lives of thousands of survival migrants and refugees entering and living in South Africa. Sexual violence, appalling living conditions, police harassment, threats of xenophobic attacks, and a lack of access to essential health care still define the desperate lives of thousands of these vulnerable people.


Johannesburg/New York, May 12, 2010—International medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is today expressing grave concern for the health and lives of thousands of survival migrants and refugees entering and living in South Africa. Sexual violence, appalling living conditions, police harassment, threats of xenophobic attacks, and a lack of access to essential health care still define the desperate lives of thousands of these vulnerable people, according to a MSF briefing paper released today.

MSF is providing health care to survival migrants and refugees at its clinics in the border town of Musina and in Johannesburg.

The MSF briefing paper is available here:
Lives of Survival Migrants and Refugees in South Africa

In Musina this year, MSF has documented an increase in the number of attacks, robberies, and rapes by violent gangs active on both sides of the border. In the first four months of 2010, MSF treated 103 survivors of sexual violence, 71 of them since March 1.

In Johannesburg, MSF has been providing an average of 2,300 consultations each month for patients who continue to face serious health risks related to overcrowding and unhygienic living conditions. While some still seek shelter in the Central Methodist Church, thousands more live in abandoned buildings, often without electricity, water, or basic sanitation—circumstances that put their health and safety at risk.

Last June, MSF released a report raising the alarm about the dangerous health situation of survival migrants struggling to eke out a living on the margins in South Africa. One year later, their situation remains dire and largely ignored.

“What has changed for our patients in the last year?” asked Mickael Le Paih, head of mission for MSF in South Africa. “Very little. They are still risking their lives when they cross the border, raped in shocking numbers by gangs, and then facing uncertainty about their status in the country. Many go on to a life in Johannesburg that continues to endanger their health.”

The threat of sexual violence for those crossing the border from Zimbabwe must be acknowledged. They need access to a formal status to be legally allowed in the country so they are not forced to cross the border irregularly and be exposed to this extreme violence. Access to both emergency shelter and primary health care should be ensured for survival migrants and refugees, as well as vulnerable South Africans, living in inhumane conditions.

Without access to basic medical care, safety, and shelter, the lives of survival migrants and refugees in South Africa remains precarious and uncertain.

Since 2007, MSF has been providing survival migrants with basic primary health care, referral to secondary and specialized care, emergency medical treatment for victims of violence and epidemic outbreaks, and care for survivors of sexual violence. MSF has been working in South Africa since 1999 and operates medical humanitarian projects in Musina, Johannesburg, and Khayelitsha, near Cape Town.