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In Johannesburg, Scalabrinian Sisters articulate efforts to bring food to the migrant and refugee population

In South Africa, the African country with the largest number of people infected with the new Coronavirus, the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees and the shelter of the Scalabrinian Sisters have already managed to help more than 1,700 people affected by the crisis

With the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa in the 90s, the flow of migrants arriving in the country was no longer from white people, from European countries, such as the English, Portuguese and Italians. The flow of people from African nationalities raised, those who started to compose a more expressive number among migrants.

Despite the high number of people on the move, Scalabrinian Sister Marizete Garbin, from the Department of Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, says that migrants and refugees in the country are not eligible to emergency assistance from the South African government. However, the government has increased financial remittances to non-governmental and religious organizations that work with social attention for this population.

Sr. Marizete Garbin and Father Jean-Marie distribute food to families not covered by government aid. Photo: Department of Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (M&R) from the Archdiocese of Johannesburg

The financial difficulties of the migrant families have worsened by the measures of radical social isolation, the “lockdown”, which make informal commerce (the only source of work for many families) impossible. It has also triggered a rise in the unemployment rate in the country, which still has the largest number of infected with the new Coronavirus on the African continent.

Scalabrinian Articulation

The Scalabrinian Sisters have been helping and welcoming migrants and refugees in the country since the late 1990s. In addition to working in the Archdiocese’s Department for Migrants and Refugees, they have a shelter that temporarily welcome migrant and refugee women accompanied by their children. The Bienvenu Shelter was born in face the need, at the time, of a place for the growing number of women who arrived in Johannesburg fleeing wars and poverty in their home countries.

Currently, the Department for Migrants and Refugees of the Archdiocese and the Bienvenu Shelter, with the support of IOM, have articulated efforts, through video calls, with the network of local NGOs. The objective is to increase the capacity to serve families affected by the crisis. The protocol prioritizes the most disadvantaged and the undocumented, distributing basic foods for survival. In the city of Johannesburg alone, it is estimated that there are almost 1 million people in need of food.

Food to be distributed in the Riverlea district, western Johannesburg. Photo:Department of Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (M&R) from the Archdiocese of Johannesburg

According to Sister Marizete Garbin, the delivery of food is scheduled by phone and prior registration. One of the challenges is to drive with trucks full of food in the city that has many hungry people, facing the risk of looting. Donors who have already contributed to the distribution of food by the Department of Pastoral Care include the Ugandan community of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and the Mayfair Convent school.


As restrictions continue, the Bienvenu Shelter and the Johannesburg Migrant and Refugee Pastoral appeal for greater donations. To get in touch, click on the links below:

Bienvenu Shelter

Department of Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (M&R) from the Archdiocese of Johannesburg

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Luana G. Silveira and Igor B. Cunha

CSEM Communication Team

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