Migrants as a vulnerable group: the case of undocumented Zimbabwe migrants in Johannesburg, South Africa
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In general, migrants are categorised as a population at risk in destination countries especially those who are undocumented or without a legal status. The statement is no exception to undocumented Zimbabwean migrants' in South Africa who are disproportionately vulnerable to different kinds of risks due to their illegality. The study made a case of undocumented Zimbabwean migrants as a vulnerable group through the adoption of the PAR model as a major theoretical reference point to unpack their vulnerability. The study found that undocumented Zimbabwean migrants' vulnerability emanated from the economic crisis in Zimbabwe and this underlying vulnerability is coincided and further increased by vulnerability embedded in political, legal and economic structures in South Africa that shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life opportunities. The study through the PAR model demonstrated that the economic crisis in Zimbabwe and structures in South Africa conspire either through routine or ritual to deny undocumented migrants' access to health care in Johannesburg hospitals, make them vulnerable to xenophobic violence, insecure wages, a chronic deficit in basic needs such as housing and discriminatory educational systems that produce inequality through standardised policies and practices. Focus group discussions, transect walks and participatory interviews involving a sampling unit of 64 participants revealed that undocumented migrants' employ coping strategies to deal with their vulnerabilities. The study further demonstrated that undocumented migrants' progression of vulnerability is not homogeneous as implied in the PAR model but it is heterogeneous due to their different coping capacities which provide them with leverage against hazards and risky situations. Undocumented migrants' who owned fewer assets (social capital) meant that their coping capacities were short term and unsustainable resulting in them facing risky situations and being more vulnerable while those with more assets had coping capacities that were adaptive and progressed to safety. The study also witnessed a new paradigm shift in terms of migrants' livelihoods in Johannesburg, South Africa. Undocumented migrants are shifting away from traditional migrant businesses such as vending fruits to more risky entrepreneurships with quick profits such as illegal gold mining (Zama Zamas), exportation of cough mixtures as medicine from South Africa and sold as contraband in Zimbabwe Broncleer (Bronco) and operating pirate taxis. Given the history of migration between the two countries, the study recommended a new regime of SADC special permits that include low skilled economic migrants who are systematically disadvantaged by the current Immigration Act 13 of 2002. The study further recommended permanent regularisation programmes based on fait accompli to cater for the unknown number of undocumented migrants already resident in South Africa.
- Humanities