The Church Works with Migrants and Refugees in its AIDS Programmes

The Church Works with Migrants and Refugees in its AIDS Programmes

Johan Viljoen


The SACBC AIDS Office does not have programmes specifically targeting refugees and migrant people. Refugees are often ostracized, and AIDS carries a stigma. Setting up specific programmes would subject refugees to double stigma, and undermines UNHCR’s ideal of integrating refugees into their local communities. Refugees and migrants are concentrated in specific communities. Where SACBC AIDS Office has programmes in these communities, refugees and migrants make up a high proportion of beneficiaries.


The SACBC AIDS Office’s ARV treatment programme was fully functional over the period 2004 – 2012. At its height, it had 22 treatment sites. A total of more than 40 000 people were initiated on treatment. As the government’s ARV roll out progressed, SACBC treatment sites were closed down, and patients transferred to the government. Currently six sites remain. One of them is Nazareth House. Situated in the Johannesburg inner city suburb of Yeoville, it serves the large immigrant population living in the area. At its height it had more than 2 000 patients on ART, 80% of them refugees and migrants.

Tapologo serves the platinum mining area around Rustenburg. It has similar patient numbers to Nazareth House. 20% of them are from Lesotho, 10% from Eastern Cape, 5% from Mozambique and 5% from Zimbabwe.


The plight of orphans left behind by refugees is particularly bad. Their parents had no identity documents, consequently they do not have death certificates. As a result, the orphans cannot get birth certificates or identity documents. This means that they cannot access SA government social services, and are fully dependent on the support they get from the Church. The SACBC AIDS Office orphan program provides comprehensive care and support to about 25 000 orphans in 27 places. Three of the orphan projects serve large migrant population. At Tiyimiseleni (Hazyview, Witbank Diocese) 77,8% of the orphans are children of Mozambican refugees. At Kopano Lerato (Winterveldt, Pretoria Archdiocese) 20% are orphaned children of Mozambican refugees. And at Tapologo (Rustenburg Diocese), 90% are from Lesotho, Mozambique or Eastern Cape.

The pictures below show orphans at Tiyimiseleni, receiving lunch.

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The SACBC AIDS Office Orphan Housing Project constructs houses for orphans (either living in orphan headed households or being cared for by grandparents) who live in abject poverty. To date more than 250 houses have been built. Almost 30 of the houses have been built in the Inkomazi District of the Witbank Diocese – an area situated between the borders of Mozambique and Swaziland, and home to a large population of descendants of Mozambican refugees. Houses have also been built at Tiyimiseleni in Hazyview.

Pictured below is Nompulelo Mabaso – a teenage orphan from Mozambique, who looks after her four siblings. Her greatest fear was the fact that snakes entered freely every night into their old shelter. She is overjoyed with her new house. The pictures show the old shelter and the new house.

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The Church has home based care projects in almost every area with a high HIV prevalence. The home based care project run by the Assumption Sisters in Phalaborwa (Tzaneen Diocese) has a special focus on refugees – about 90% of patients are refugees from Mozambique. About 20% of the patients at the Nzhelele Home Based Care project (also in the Diocese of Tzaneen) are refugees from Zimbabwe.