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Xawela, Carletonville. Sweeping dust in the streets of the township. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Sweeping dust in the streets of the township. ©Manash Das.

They say money doesn’t grow on trees. Well, sometimes it’s just under your feet! A community of Mozambican migrants in Carletonville, in the South African province of Gauteng, found gold dust in the soil of the informal settlement of Xawela.

A long and complicated process allows the zama zamas (informal miners) to produce and sell pure gold without leaving their home. A day of hard work is enough to feed a family for a week, fuelling the informal economy of the township.

A nifty operation

The process begins at dawn, when some adolescents of the informal settlement start sweeping the streets of Xawela. “They need to bring 15 barrels of soil to make around one gram of gold,” explains John D (42), the marshal of the operation.

The youths sweep the precious dust early in the morning, before preparing for school. Neo (20) and Zweli (18) work tirelessly to gather the loot for their seniors. “This is our life, but our education is also important,” admits Neo.  One day, they will also be zama zamas. Born and bred in the settlement, they have already enrolled in the Delta, the local gang which runs surface and underground mining in the area.

While the boys are gathering the raw dust in an unforgiving soggy day, another group is setting up the sieve. On the outskirts of the settlement, they dig large pit holes which they use to extract the mineral.

“Out here is the wilderness,” comments LSG, a general in the Delta gang. “Sometimes we find buffalos, antelopes or hyenas roaming around. When there is no food at home, people will go out there and hunt.”

Next to each pit hole is a ramp, covered with cloths where the gold will stick. The miners placed a large bucket made into a sieve on top of the ramp and started filling it with the metal dust. A hose pipe inside the container provides running water throughout the process.

From dust to grof

After some hours spent processing the soil under the pouring rain, the cloths on the ramp glitter with gold. The operation now moves into John D’s home and spaza (convenience) shop, where the men are sitting around a fire and having drinks. While John D washes the mineral from the cloths inside a bucket, West, Castro, Samson and Metlo burn some soil with a high concentration of gold.

One last step, then the precious loot is ready for moulding. John D drops some mercury in a plate and then starts sieving the water full of the shining dust. “You can find the mercury in any pharmacy or hardware store,” he says.

The liquid element is a useful magnet, which starts turning yellow as it incorporates the gold. He puts aside the bigger grains mumbling “point one gram... point two grams...”

Once the sieving is done, one last capable move separates with a cloth the liquid mercury from the solid gold.

Inside a shack, John D lights a blow torch to mold the metal inside a plate. He knocks it with a spoon to make it into a small nugget. “Here is the grof,” he demonstrates proudly. The grof (Afrikaans for “coarse”) weighs approximately one gram.

“In town, we can sell it for seven, eight hundred rand [just under $50] if we’re lucky,” concludes John D.

“Here is the big deal!” exclaims in excitement West (37), while pouring some beer on the grof. The men amass around the raw nugget to witness the result of their hard work.

The golden legacy

The township of Xawela is in the outskirts of Carletonville, a mining town located on the north-western part of the Witwatersrand Gold Reef. Mining operations in the area began in the late 1800s, when settlers from the Cape laid the first stone of Ferreirarsdorp, the oldest suburb in Johannesburg.

Not far from the South African metropolis, Carletonville was built in 1937 in a location considered as the richest gold-mining area in the world. Mining companies such as Anglo Gold, Sibanye and Impala scrambled for a piece of land, digging in the depths of earth to extract the precious mineral.

The gold rush attracted migrant labor from across southern Africa. Shortly, informal and illegal miners began plundering gold-rich soil and ore from the shafts.

The oldest residents of Xawela remember a time when smugglers hid huge quantities of gold in the township. They looted nearby mines with some inside help and used Xawela as a hideaway.

“I made a lot of money with gold in my youth,” said Virginio (53) from Maputo. “I used it to support my family and start my panel beating business.”

Many years later, a generation of young migrants found gold nuggets inside pit toilets and discovered a concentration of gold dust in the soil under their shacks.

A journey to hell

While the community of Xawela feeds off the gold deposits hidden in the soil, the group of zama zamas also works underground.

To reach the tunnels of the buried city, an abandoned wing of an old mine, they climb down a 300-meters deep shaft with a complex system of ropes and pulleys.

“There are strict regulations in place to avoid illegal mining in active shafts, but it’s almost impossible to keep zama zamas away,” admits Nyko, an employee of the National Union of Mineworkers. Furthermore, the companies have no interest in preventing illicit activities in abandoned shafts.

Hundreds of people cooperate in the underground tunnels, using military hierarchy and martial law to maintain order.

As one of the generals of the Delta gang, LSG oversees the appropriation of gold, platinum, and copper cables in mines where his subjects spend up to three months without seeing the light of the sun.

“The Shangaan people from Mozambique are the most skilled gold diggers,” he says. “Instead the baSotho [from Lesotho and the Free State province in South Africa] are the guardians of the shaft. Some of them are vicious, in smaller shafts they would take advantage of the zama zamas, make them work like slaves, rob them and even rape sometimes.”

Many of the illegal miners are skillful former mine contractors. They know the tunnels inside out and carry out blasting operations and routine geological checks with professional precision. The refining of the gold happens directly underground, where wealth is diffuse and goods sell in out-and-out underground stores at ten times the market price.

Nonetheless, accidents disrupt the operations from time to time. During an interview, a general picks up the phone. After a heated discussion, he explains: “somebody broke his leg in a blast. They’re taking him out tonight”.

Far West, far South

One of the gangsters pulls out of his pocket two large pieces of raw gold. “This one is about 20 grams, this is 15,” he remarks. Some of the miners sent them up from the shaft. After selling them, the gang will deliver a share of the proceeds to the miners’ families.

“When the zama zamas come back to surface,” laughs LSG, “the whole township is abuzz. People have a lot of money and the parties last for days.”

In the shacks of Khutsong, a larger township near Xawela, gangsters hide explosives, guns and AK-47 rifles. Several gangs contend illicit markets regulating smuggled gold, copper cables, drugs, prostitution, and firearms.

“Our gangs are different from the ones you find in jail,” elaborates LSG. The main criminal clans of Carletonville are called Delta, Casanova, Vandal and Creature. Their rivalry accounts for several murders and regular shootouts over control of drug and prostitution hotspots. The law enforcement may stop the most striking incidents, but generally colludes with the gangsters to maintain peace in town.

Jail time is a temporary punishment for serial murderers and mobsters. Somebody in the gang reminisces of his time behind bars, after a heist at a petrol station: “two people were killed in my cell, right in front of my eyes. But there is a code, you won’t speak up otherwise you’ll be next. On record, they both committed suicide.”

One of the zama zamas was arrested for house robbery. “I killed a lot of people before coming clean. I have a family to feed back home.” After some years in jail, he decided to give up violence and work in the mines. “You can call this illegal, but for me it’s just a job,” he admits.

When the sun goes down over Khutsong, it’s time for a group of zama zamas to “shoot down” in the mine. They enter the shaft, buckle up and leap into darkness. Their game is on.

 

Xawela, Carletonville. Leftover soil will wash away in a large pit hole. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Leftover soil will wash away in a large pit hole. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Underground, the zama zamas produce gold nuggets as big as a fist. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Underground, the zama zamas produce gold nuggets as big as a fist. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The whole community supervises the extraction of gold. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The whole community supervises the extraction of gold. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Old cloths on a mud ramp will capture the gold dust. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Old cloths on a mud ramp will capture the gold dust. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Sieving 15 barrels of soil will produce a gram of gold. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Sieving 15 barrels of soil will produce a gram of gold. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Young manpower working tirelessly under a heavy rain. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Young manpower working tirelessly under a heavy rain. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The first grains of gold start shining on the muddy cloths. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The first grains of gold start shining on the muddy cloths. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The process of sieving the mineral-rich dust can last a few hours. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The process of sieving the mineral-rich dust can last a few hours. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Several pit holes are used daily to process the soil. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Several pit holes are used daily to process the soil. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The adults supervise the first part of the process. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The adults supervise the first part of the process. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Once the cloths are full of gold dust, John D washes them carefully in a bucket. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Once the cloths are full of gold dust, John D washes them carefully in a bucket. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Another bucket contains mineral rich soil, which will be burned. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Another bucket contains mineral rich soil, which will be burned. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Burning soil and gold on the communal fire. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Burning soil and gold on the communal fire. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Liquid mercury is a useful magnet to isolate gold. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Liquid mercury is a useful magnet to isolate gold. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Finally, John D melts the grof using a blow torch. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. Finally, John D melts the grof using a blow torch. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The final produce is a small nugget worth around $50. ©Manash Das.
Xawela, Carletonville. The final produce is a small nugget worth around $50. ©Manash Das.
Khutsong, Carletonville. A gangster showing off his arsenal. ©Manash Das.
Khutsong, Carletonville. A gangster showing off his arsenal. ©Manash Das.

 

Alessandro Parodi is a Johannesburg-based reporter with a passion for cultural studies and urban ethnography. He is a regular contributor to the Italian-South African weekly publication La Voce del Sudafrica and the travel magazine Nomad Africa. (Twitter: @apnews360)

Manash Das is a freelance photojournalist based in South Africa and India. His work mainly focuses on humanitarian issues, conflicts, and daily life. (Twitter: @manashdasorg)

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB)
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (Riccardo Savi/via AFP)

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), has been cleared of corruption following the conclusion of a second ethics probe, which the United States had insisted on. A three-person team found insufficient evidence to prove allegations of corruption and nepotism that whistleblowers had leveled against Dr. Adesina, and found his submission to be persuasive.

A report by the AfDB’s Ethics Committee and Board of Governors had cleared him of misconduct in April, but the US, which is the second-largest AfDB shareholder, rejected the internal investigation and insisted that an independent panel review the case. The panel, led by former Irish president Mary Robinson, reviewed all the evidence and agreed with the earlier finding.

The Americans’ demand for a second investigation into Dr. Adesina’s conduct sparked outrage among African states that hold shares in the AfDB, with Nigeria in particular pushing back against what they perceived as an imposition on the bank by a non-African nation.

 

Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB

 

The AfDB has been a key financier of major infrastructure projects, such as Mozambique’s liquid natural gas plant in Cabo Delgado province and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Inga III hydropower project. The AfDB has also committed US$10 billion in funding to assist in the fight against COVID-19 on the continent.

With his name cleared, Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB in August, running as the only candidate for the position and generally supported by the Bank’s African shareholders.

The full report of the auditors can be read here.

 

President Filipe Nyusi (via AFP)
President Filipe Nyusi (via AFP)

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has finalized a US$400 million bid to assist in the financing of the Mozambique Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Area 1 Project off the coast of Cabo Delgado province in the north of the country. AfDB joins a cohort of international financial backers on the project, estimated to cost US$20 billion. French multinational company Total has secured a senior debt financing facility worth US$14.9 billion, making it the main investor in the project.

 

The successful financing of the project signals trust in the government of Filipe Nyusi

 

The Mozambique LNG Area 1 Project is the single largest foreign direct investment project on the African continent, involving Export Credit Agencies from the United States, South Africa, Italy, Thailand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Japan, according to a statement Total released last week. Set to be operational by 2024, the plant is expected to generate up to 13.1 million tons of liquified natural gas per year. It’s hoped that the wealth generated by the plant will improve economic fortunes for the people of Cabo Delgado, where poverty is severe.

The successful financing of the project signals renewed trust in the government of Filipe Nyusi, whose administration has been embroiled in a major scandal over loans Swiss bank Credit Suisse helped to arrange for development in Mozambique, which involved kickbacks worth millions of dollars. It also indicates that persistent violence committed in the region by Islamist insurgents has not discouraged major international investors.

 

A Mozambican woman walks in Palma, on February 16, 2017. The small, palm-fringed fishing town of Palma was meant to become a symbol of Mozambique's glittering future, transformed by one of the world's largest liquefied natural gas projects, but it is now under threat from construction delays, fallen gas prices and a huge government debt scandal. JOHN WESSELS / AFP
The small, palm-fringed fishing town of Palma was meant to become a symbol of Mozambique’s glittering future, transformed by one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas projects, but it is now under threat from construction delays, fallen gas prices and a huge government debt scandal. (John Wessels/AFP)

The most recent report from Mozambique’s National Statistics Institute (INE) reveals the nation’s economy has flipped from a consistent inflationary trend toward a 0.6 percent deflationary one. Drawing on data from consumer price fluctuations in Mozambique’s three largest cities—Maputo, Nampula, and Beira—the INE’s research suggests this recent bout of deflation stems from the sudden drop in prices for private education, a first in the country’s history. Due to the government-mandated closure of all schools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, private education facilities either lowered their fees or were unable to collect tuition from parents.

 

The informal economy has come to a near complete standstill

 

The Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), a civil society organization, warned that the INE’s deflation numbers are “misleading.” Typically, deflation arises when demand for goods is at a lower rate than its supply, forcing vendors to lower prices in an effort to raise demand. In a Facebook post, the CDD argues “that this deflation is not the result of an excess supply of products on the market, but from the shortage of demand as a result of the deterioration of the purchasing power of families, especially those of low income.” The Center urges the Mozambican government to prioritize support for low-income families who are most at risk of economic ruin from the pandemic.

All border posts are closed save for one shared with South Africa, which is open for cargo purposes only, and the informal economy has come to a near complete standstill. Whatever little benefit consumers would normally have gained during a deflationary period is cancelled out by the broader economic precarity of the country and its most vulnerable communities.

 

Cabo Delgado
Muzasufar Abakari, chief of the coastal village Guludo in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, photographed during Ramadan in May 2019 (Zinyange Auntony/AFP)

Valige Tauabo, the governor of Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique, announced on Monday that the country’s Defense and Security Forces (DSF) had reclaimed control of the town of Macomia. The town had been under attack by unspecified armed insurgents since Thursday, May 29. This comes on the heels of a declaration by President Filipe Nyusi that the DSF had killed two “senior officers” among the insurgents after Thursday’s attack on and occupation of the Macomia district headquarters.

Images and video clips of the destruction left behind by the insurgents—suspected of belonging to a violent local jihadist group with possible connections to Islamic State—were circulated on social media.

Private military contractors were part of the offensive to reclaim Macomia, although reports about the operation have not yet divulged the identity of all the entities involved. Separate engagements in Mozambique have suggested the presence of South African contractors as well as the Wagner Group, the infamous Russian mercenary outfit that has also been active in Libya and the Central African Republic.

 

President Nyusi has admitted that unemployment and poverty are behind the insurgency in the province

 

Since the insurgency in Cabo Delgado started in 2017, more than 1,100 civilians have been killed and thousands more displaced. The discovery of significant natural gas reserves off the province’s coast has attracted interest from multinational energy companies like ExxonMobil and Total. But despite billions in investments to extract the gas, the local people have not derived any benefit from them. And President Nyusi has admitted that unemployment and poverty are behind the insurgency in the province.

 

 

Total Logo

 

French multinational energy company Total has secured US$14.4 billion in funding for a natural gas exploration project off the northern coast of Mozambique, according to two unnamed sources who spoke to Reuters. One of the sources said Total had worked out a financing scheme with more than twenty lenders, but did not name them. This follows Total’s acquisition of a 26.5 percent stake in a liquid natural gas (LNG) project for US$3.9 billion from United States-based Anadarko Petroleum in September 2019. 

Total is not the only company that has been looking to invest in the natural gas rush in Mozambique: China National Petroleum Corporation, Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP have all been vying for plots to exploit. 

 

There have already been significant costs for the average Mozambican

 

Economists have spoken of the potential windfall this project could end up being for Mozambique’s economy, yet there have already been significant costs for the average Mozambican. The offshore reserves are located in Cabo Delgado province, a region that has been Mozambique’s poorest for decades. Those living close to where the planned on-shore facilities will be constructed have already seen their lands confiscated, some allege without compensation, to make space for energy interests. 

A 2016 Anadarko report concluded that 550 families would have to relocate, and a further 952 would lose access to their cultivated land. The region has also suffered a growing insurgency that has claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced tens of thousands more, leading to calls by companies such as Total and ExxonMobil for a stronger military presence. Unable to contain the attacks, President Filipe Nyusi has had to turn to mercenary groups to help quell the insurgency.

 

 

Undersea Cable

 

A multinational consortium of telecommunications companies—including Facebook, China Mobile International, MTN Global Connect, Telecom Egypt, and Vodafone—announced the construction of a new undersea fiber-optic cable that will connect sixteen African countries, Europe, and the Middle East. Named 2Africa, the 37,000 kilometer-long communications cable is scheduled to go live in 2023 or 2024.

 

Africans pay some of the highest data rates in the world.

 

In March, two undersea cables serving Africa experienced breakages that drastically reduced Internet connectivity for days as repairs were made. The addition of 2Africa will help improve Internet access for millions of Africans, and mitigate disruptions should other cables experience failures in the future. Such disruptions are not only frustrating for Africans, who pay some of the highest data rates in the world, but also have a negative impact on the African economy.

A 2017 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) concluded that intentional Internet shutdowns in twelve countries between 2015 and 2017 cost sub-Saharan Africa more than US$237 million. Unforeseen connectivity disruptions naturally can have far greater negative impact on national and regional economies.

 

There has been a growing insurgent threat in the province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, one of the poorest areas in the country despite being rich in natural resources and with vast natural gas and oil reserves off the coast. The majority of the population is Muslim.

The government’s response to the increase in violent attacks on civilians in the province has led to human rights abuses, including the intimidation and detainment of journalists. This has led to journalists engaging in various forms of self-censorship out of fear of reprisals from insurgents or the authorities.

 

Heavy-handed police operations in Cabo Delgado have sparked protests.

 

Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi arrives to attend a reception for heads of State and Government at Buckingham Palace in London on January 20, 2020, following the UK-Africa Investment Summit. HENRY NICHOLLS / POOL / AFP
Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi arrives at a reception following the UK-Africa Investment Summit in January 2020.

 

More than twenty press freedom organizations raised their concerns with President Filipe Nyusi, specifically concerning harassment by police and military personnel, and the disappearance of journalist Ibrahimo Abu Mbaruco on April 7, who is believed to have been either detained or shot by Mozambican soldiers.

Heavy-handed police operations in Cabo Delgado have sparked protests by civilians angered at the abuse they have witnessed or experienced.

With insurgent violence growing more brutal in Cabo Delgado, public support for the authorities is vital for counter-insurgency operations to be successful

 

 

MOZAMBIQUE

 

Insurgents launched an attack in the Quirimbas Archipelago, off the coast of Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, on the morning of Friday, April 10. Dressed in civilian clothes, the terrorists took small boats from the mainland to the island the previous evening, and attacked a primary school, health center, the residence of the head of the Quirimba administrative post, and a number of homes, according to the independent outlet Carta de Moçambique. Sixty people taken hostage were later released. This latest attack comes just a day after insurgents targeted a Catholic mission in Muidumbe District on the mainland.

These attacks continue a trend of escalating violence from the shadowy Islamist group, which burst onto the scene in October 2017. It has now disseminated a video declaring its intentions to establish a caliphate and implement strict Islamic law, without bothering to cover their faces. Analysis of the people in the video suggest they are from the Mocímboa da Praia port town, which is where the insurgents launched their first attack. Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) claimed responsibility for that attack. 

 

Giriyondo border

 

Migrants and displaced people across Africa are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission. Governments should resist nationalist responses that could put vulnerable people more at risk and exacerbate the spread.

According to the International Organization for Migration, the COVID-19 outbreak is the largest mobility crisis the world has ever seen, with 209 countries affected to date – 52 in Africa. What started in the global north has rapidly moved into and across the continent.

Migration has changed extraordinarily in a short time. Opportunities for movement have reduced drastically. Many African countries have adopted strict migration measures aimed at, among other things, reducing entry into their territories through border closures, suspension of visa processes and implementation of severe travel restrictions.

Border closures, while broadly effective against the pandemic, carry some risks. These include increasing or changing irregular migration patterns and, in turn, potentially increasing transmission and reducing states’ abilities to trace it.

Afghans returning from Iran, one of the earliest COVID-19 epicentres, provide a bleak warning to African states. Approximately three million Afghans live in Iran. An estimated 200 000 have returned to Afghanistan since Iran’s coronavirus outbreak because many fear the disease and have lost work.

Border closures could heighten exposure and complicate health screenings and contact tracing

Some returning Afghans have used regular border channels, while many more are believed to be moving irregularly. Conditions are chaotic and rushed. Border agents are registering people, checking temperatures and providing information, but more than half of Afghanistan’s confirmed cases are returnees from Iran and the pandemic is spreading to regions where they are going.

South Africa has the most COVID-19 cases in Africa. It is also a regional migration hub, with an estimated 4.2 million migrants, primarily from neighbouring countries. Its immediate neighbours have substantially lower case loads and weaker health and governance systems to manage the virus.

As part of a nationwide lockdown, South Africa has closed ports with neighbouring countries. As many as 23 000 Mozambican mineworkers are estimated to have rushed across the main border crossing at Ressano Garcia in the days before the closure. Mozambican officials claimed all returnees were greeted by the health brigade and washed their hands on entry.

An estimated 13 500 Zimbabweans also returned home in that three-day period and were asked to self-isolate. On the first morning of South Africa’s lockdown, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi visited the Beitbridge border post into Zimbabwe after seeing queues stretching for up to 7 km of people who hadn’t managed to cross before the lockdown began. The Zimbabweans were granted passage to return home.

Irregular migrants are less likely to seek care if they develop COVID-19 symptoms

Fears of these returnees transmitting COVID-19 in their home countries are high. Border closures don’t mean people stop trying to cross them, and often lead to an increase in irregular travel methods, which could heighten exposure and complicate health screenings and contact tracing. Many borders in Africa are notoriously porous and migrants cross illegally.

Many immigrants work in informal markets, have family members who rely on remittances and are not eligible for economic relief provided by the state. Health risks are also high for irregular migrants who stay put. Research by the Institute for Security Studies shows that they often fear authorities, including healthcare professionals. Many try to remain invisible and have low knowledge of their health rights. These migrants are less likely to seek care if symptomatic.

Concerns are also growing among aid agencies and service providers about the potential impact of COVID-19 on displaced people in Africa. Africa hosts more than 25.2 million refugees and internally displaced people. Most African refugee appeals are chronically underfunded and most displaced people are hosted in poor countries with already under-resourced health systems.

Africa houses four of the world’s six largest refugee camps (in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia). These camps are ideal spaces for transmission of the coronavirus. They are overcrowded and lack adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Africa hosts four of the world’s largest refugee camps, where conditions are ideal for transmission

 

Dadaab Camp
Dadaab refugee camp currently houses some 350,000 people and for more than 20 years has been home to generations of Somalis who have fled their homeland wracked by conflicts (Tony Karumba/AFP)

 

Many inhabitants have fled war or strife and have compromised immune systems as a result of malnutrition, high stress and other comorbidities. Healthcare facilities are basic; mechanical ventilators and intensive care beds are very rare. In these settings, social distancing or isolation will be extremely difficult.

Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya together accommodate 411 000 refugees (194 000 and 217 000 respectively). Movement between Kakuma, Dadaab and Nairobi was suspended in response to COVID-19. Four people from Kakuma are currently in isolation due to fears of exposure. A Somali-American grandfather had a high fever after he arrived from the United States to visit his family on 16 March.

Displaced people outside formal refugee camps are perhaps even more vulnerable. Many of these refugees are in makeshift camps or urban slums. These communities tend to be highly transient, poorly resourced and situated away from any source of official support. They rely on local charities for survival, many of which are now closed due to the pandemic and government-ordered lockdowns.

Detainees in immigration detention centres also face a higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus due to crowded conditions and a limited ability to take precautions. Many African migrants are held in detention on the continent. In Libya for example, thousands have been locked in horrific conditions for extended periods, some even for months. These migrants should be released and moratoriums on immigration detention implemented to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In their responses, governments should consider the possible unintended consequences of measures like border closures on transnational transmission of the virus. Refugee camps and detention centres must urgently be protected and provided with adequate hygiene and health facilities to prevent catastrophic outbreaks. Governments should ensure that prevention, testing and treatment is available to all, regardless of nationality or immigration status.

Aimée-Noël Mbiyozo is a Senior Research Consultant specialized in Migration at the Istitute of Security Studies in Pretoria

This article was originally published on ISS Today under the title "COVID-19 responses in Africa must include migrants and refugees." 

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