Health of Zimbabwean migrants at risk after raid at Johannesburg Methodist Church

"Some had suspected fractured ribs and possible lung contusions after receiving blows," said MSF nurse Bianca Tollboom. "Others were under HIV or tuberculosis treatment and didn't get the amount of food required to take their medications. We left medicines for some patients, but the police officers failed to give them the drugs, although they had promised to do it." Johannesburg - Following the raid at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, the international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is extremely concerned about the health conditions of Zimbabwean migrants living in South Africa. MSF believes that the raid and detention conditions experienced by the Zimbabwean migrants will further jeopardize their mental and physical health. "The South African constitution guarantees access to health care services to all those who live in the country. However, devastating operations like the recent raid at the Methodist Church undermine Zimbabwean migrants' access to health services," said Sharon Ekambaram, MSF's General Director in South Africa. The morning after the raid and detention of approximately 300 migrants, after persistent negotiation, an MSF team had access to the detainees taken to John Vorster Police Station and was able to assess their health conditions. "Some had suspected fractured ribs and possible lung contusions after receiving blows," said MSF nurse Bianca Tollboom. "Others were under HIV or tuberculosis treatment and didn't get the amount of food required to take their medications. We left medicines for some patients, but the police officers failed to give them the drugs, although they had promised to do it." Despite MSF's repeated requests for patients in need of referral to be immediately taken to hospital, patients remained incarcerated. The team also identified signs of deterioration of the mental health of detainees. "The cells were overcrowded, the detainees were scared and hungry. They were being shouted at and verbally abused. They felt humiliated, were crying and some were in a state of panic," said Tolboom. "These actions increase the state of stress and fear of this already vulnerable population and might prevent them from seeking health care," explained Ekambaram. Since December 2007, MSF has been providing access to health care to migrants living at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg and in the Musina area in Limpopo, and facilitating their access to health structures. Although basic health care is granted to all in South Africa, including undocumented migrants, lack of information and fear of arrest and deportation hinders Zimbabwean migrants' access to health care.