Date: May 5, 2020

South Africa: All asylum seekers and refugees must be protected during the pandemic

As World African Heritage Day is marked today, Amnesty International South Africa calls on the government to protect all asylum seekers and refugees as the pandemic continues.

“May is Africa Month and acts as a reminder that we are all connected and equal, whether a citizen, migrant, refugee or asylum seeker, and we must be treated as such whatever the circumstances,” said Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director, Amnesty International South Africa.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees and asylum seekers must be protected from immigration-related penalisation, arrest, detention and deportation, have access to social relief distress grants, healthcare services, food and be included in material relief responses as well as COVID-19 testing and screening, with or without documentation.

Furthermore, there must be a moratorium on migration-related deportations and detention. If people were already in detention prior to the lockdown, the government must ensure that all detention facilities can observe physical distancing as well as hygiene, health and sanitation protocols. When immigration detainees’ right to health cannot be upheld or when deportations cannot be carried out promptly, detainees should be released and the government must act to ensure people’s access – free from discrimination – to essential services, care and safety, including adequate accommodation and healthcare.

Our report, Living in Limbo: Rights of Asylum Seekers Denied, published in October last year, found that although South Africa has a strong legal and human rights framework on refugees and asylum seekers’ rights, the implementation of existing laws and policies is starkly lacking, and the asylum management system is failing those who need it the most.

We call on the Department of Home Affairs to publicly outline its plan on how it will strengthen the protection system for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants during – and after – the COVID-19 pandemic, including fixing the asylum management system.

We understand that these are uncertain times for all, but we remind the government that it is obligated by national and international human rights laws and standards to protect the human rights of refugee and asylum seekers, now and always.”


The month of May is recognised as Africa month – a time when the continent commemorates the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963 – now the African Union.


Mienke Steytler, Media and Digital Content Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0)64 890 9224;