Forced to flee: UNHRC steps in to protect foreign nationals in SA

2019-09-20 22:28
A police officer walks through the Johannesburg city centre on September 2 after shops, mainly foreign run, were set alight and looted. (Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

A police officer walks through the Johannesburg city centre on September 2 after shops, mainly foreign run, were set alight and looted. (Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

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The UNHRC, the United Nation’s Refugee Agency, claims at least 1 500 foreign nationals, mainly migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, were forced to flee their homes during heightened violence against foreigners in South Africa.

UNHRC spokesperson, Charlie Yaxley, addressed media at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on Friday.

Yaxley said the UNHRC was deeply concerned about the violence against foreign nationals, saying at least 12 people – South Africans and foreign nationals – had been killed.

"Our staff are receiving a significant increase in calls to our telephone hotlines in recent weeks, with people reporting that their homes and businesses have been looted, buildings and property have been set on fire, increased gang activity on the streets and rising incidents of sexual and gender-based violence," Yaxley said.

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"Many refugees are now too afraid to go to work or carry out their day-to-day trade, despite having no alternative sources of income."

He said, as a result of the violence in South Africa, the UNHRC were strengthening operational presence in South Africa to ensure the safety of refugees.

This, Yaxley said, would be done in conjunction with the South African government, UN agencies through the UN Protection Working Group chaired by UNHCR, and NGO and civil society partners.

He said the UNHRC would take decisive action in this regard.

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"We are deploying additional staff and resources, including relief items, emergency shelter, psycho-social care, legal assistance and support with recovery of lost livelihoods. Community dialogues are being established with host communities to strengthen social cohesion."

This would include UNHCR experts on child protection and sexual and gender-based violence will arrive in the coming days, Yaxley said.

"Some 800 people, mostly from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, have sought safety in community halls in Katlehong," he said, adding that many foreigners had left South Africa following the violence, including:

  • 73 Malawians
  • 138 Mozambicans
  • 314 Nigerians, and
  • 72 Zimbabweans

Yaxley explained that refugees and asylum-seekers are feeling uneasy in South Africa, their situation worsened by lack of documentation.

This means they struggle to access health care, education and public services.

"UNHCR is calling on State authorities to take every possible measure to ensure people's safety and welfare. No effort should be spared to quell the violence and enforce rule of law. Those responsible for committing criminal acts must be held to account in court," he said.

He added that the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, recently adopted by South Africa needs to implemented.

"Those with a voice in the public domain have a responsibility to ensure their language does not further inflame the situation, and that foreigners do not become scapegoats for complex socio-economic challenges," said Yaxley.

Read more on:    unhcr  |  xenophobia

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