The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Tuesday that refugees and asylum seekers should not be denied healthcare.
In a statement marking the World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20, the SAHRC said refugees and asylum seekers face a peculiar disadvantage in accessing healthcare given their status as non-nationals.
“This is compounded by xenophobia and discrimination. Refugees and asylum seekers are often denied access to healthcare owing to their nationality,” SAHRC Chairperson Bongani Majola said.
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, refugees and asylum seekers were often charged international fees where they were treated in South Africa. This is despite of the fact that the law provides for refugees and asylum seekers to be treated in the same manner as South African nationals.
Refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa face a number of challenges. Access to healthcare is arguably one of the most pressing of these challenges, the SAHRC said, adding that “this is a matter of serious concern.”
South Africa is host to a significant refugee population from many parts of the African continent and beyond, fleeing persecution, civil conflict and wars.
According to official statistics, South Africa hosts 91,043 refugees and 218,299 asylum seekers.
Worldwide, there are approximately 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, with 22.5 million refugees and 2.8 million asylum seekers, according to the most recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The SA Constitution and domestic laws protect the right to healthcare of refugees and asylum seekers, in addition to international law, the SAHRC said.
Under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its accompanying Protocol, refugees and asylum seekers are entitled to adequate, accessible, timely and efficient healthcare.
“This is echoed by another International Human rights instrument, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whereas the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, establishes the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of health possible,” the SAHRC said.
South Africa is party to all three international instruments.
The SAHRC therefore called on all state healthcare facilities to abide by their Constitutional duty to provide equitable and quality healthcare to all who live in South Africa, including refugees and asylum seekers, Majola said. Enditem