United Nations adds its voice to xenophobic attacks in SA

THE United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is deeply concerned by the continued outbreaks of xenophobia that have been occurring around the country, particularly in Durban where many foreign families, including refugees and asylum seekers, have been displaced, the agency said on Tuesday.

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However, the agency said it welcomed the increased response from government to address the issue. In a statement on Tuesday, the agency said its staff and partners had been receiving reports from refugees all around the country that they were afraid to go about their daily lives for fear of being attacked.

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“One foreign national employed as a doctor in Western Cape province told UNHCR officials that he was afraid to go to work in case something may happen to him,” said the agency.

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The statement came as four foreigners were killed and thousands displaced in the past two weeks as mobs launched attacks against foreign nationals in townships and informal settlements around Durban.

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On Sunday, President Jacob Zuma called for an end to the violence and directed the police and home affairs officials to work with local officials to stop the attacks and enforce laws.

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KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu was due to address a media conference on Tuesday morning and is expected to lead a march on Thursday.

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“We welcome the public statements made by the president and senior government officials calling for an end to attacks on foreigners, including refugees and asylum seekers,” said Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR’s regional representative for southern Africa.

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The UNHCR said it was glad to see the increased police presence and the efforts being made to try to contain the violence and looting. It also said its partners in Durban, Refugee Social Services and Lawyers for Human Rights, had been working with local authorities to ensure that assistance and services were provided to those who had been displaced. The UNHCR had also dispatched an assessment mission to Durban on Tuesday.

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“The vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers on arrival in the country present themselves to the authorities and are given documents that allow them to stay legally in the country. To lump them in the category of illegal migrants and or unlawful residents, is not only incorrect but serves to stigmatise them rather than to acknowledge that the circumstances of their plight requires that they be protected,” added Ms Nkweta-Salami.

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Soon after the 2008 attacks on foreigners in which 62 people were killed, the UNHCR was criticised for maintaining a stony silence over the violence, with activists lodging a formal protest against local staff at the agency’s head office in Geneva.

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However, on Tuesday the agency said since the wave of attacks against foreign-owned shops in Soweto earlier this year it had been raising concerns with the government in a number of forums.-BDLIVE