This World Refugee Day, in a country whose constitution makes clear provision for access to health care services for all, refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in South Africa continue to face problems in accessing health care services.

The reasons for the lack of access vary. In some cases, it seems to be plain xenophobia. In others, staff chase migrants away from facilities. Some migrants report being told to pay huge “deposits” of money or to hand over their cellphones before being assisted. In many cases, migrants are misclassified as paying patients, similar to those on medical aid, despite their inability to pay for medical services.

Limiting access in this way is bad for the patients themselves and is bad for public health. Migrants who are pregnant may be so fearful of seeking care that they only present themselves at  the hospital very late, which contributes to the numbers of children born with disabilities. People with communicable diseases such as tuberculosis may avoid seeking treatment, which will only spread the disease further.

Limiting access to health care services for migrants is also unlawful. Patients, administrators, medical practitioners, clinic and hospital managers and political leadership should know that many migrants are entitled to and must be treated like South Africans.

The Migrant Health Forum, a consortium of civil society organisations that assists migrants in accessing health care services, has produced a pamphlet laying out the rights of migrants to access health care services.

We encourage administrators, medical practitioners, clinic and hospital managers to ensure that they comply with the law by providing access to health care services as required.

We trust that the Migrant Health Forum pamphlet will empower patients to know their rights and, where they need help, to contact the Migrant Health Forum, or one of its members.

Issued by:

CORMSA: (011) 403 7560

SECTION27: (011) 356 4100

LHR: (011) 339 1960