• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

UNHCR begins repatriating victims of xenophobic violence

News Stories, 27 August 2008

© UNHCR/P.Rulashe
UNHCR repatriation official, Pamela Msizi, finalizes Muchipayi Comoda's application for voluntary repatriation as his children look on.

KRUGERSDORP, South Africa, August 27 (UNHCR) Earlier this month, the UN refugee agency helped repatriate a first group of refugees who had been displaced by last May's wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa and become unhappy with life in this country. More are likely to follow.

"Between the uncertainty surrounding the closure of the temporary shelters and the inability or reluctance of refugees to reintegrate into local communities, the preferred solution for a growing number of them is to return to their countries of origin," said Pamela Msizi, a UNHCR protection assistant, referring to government plans to close all six temporary shelters housing some 6,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Gauteng province.

A first group of refugees, comprising 46 Congolese and six Burundians, flew back to their home countries with UNHCR assistance on August 18. Msizi said a second group of 23 Congolese and nine Burundians were being processed for repatriation during the first week of September. Others have applied for repatriation, but exact numbers are not available.

UNHCR is ready to assist those who express interest in voluntary repatriation as long as the areas and countries of origin are deemed safe to return to. Refugees and other displaced foreigners who opt for repatriation are not convinced by government assurances that the situation has stabilized and they are now safe.

Muchipayi Jim Comoda, who fled his native Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) seven years ago, said UNHCR's first repatriation operation for victims of the xenophobia had increased his longing to return home. "I am exercising my right to seek voluntary repatriation and have registered my whole family with UNHCR," he added.

"It's better than going back to a community that doesn't want you," reflected Comoda, who fled from his home in Johannesburg's Bezuidenhout Valley and found shelter in Krugersdorp on May 18 after he was roughed up by armed gang members and lost a tooth. It could have been far worse at least 62 people died in the wave of xenophobia and tens of thousands were displaced.

It was not the first time that Comoda had suffered since arriving with his wife and nine children in South Africa in 2001. He was a qualified pilot with several years experience, but prospective employers would not accept his Congolese qualifications.

"I eventually gave up and started working as a trader and that is what has sustained my family," said Comoda. "These attacks have undone all of that," added the 57-year-old, who returned to Bezuidenhout Valley once the violence died down and found someone living in his house who refused to hand over his belongings.

Frustrated, he now wants to return to his home town of Lubumbashi in the southern DRC province of Katanga, where relative peace has returned after years of civil war. He is not persuaded by the government's assurances that it is safe for displaced foreigners to reintegrate back into South African communities.

"Will the army and the police be there to look after us 24 hours a day?" he asked. "The locals made it clear that they don't want us back and I will not put my family at risk. I may as well do that in the country of my birth."

Comoda's sentiments are echoed by many other displaced refugees. What they witnessed and went through at the hands of some of their South African neighbours is difficult to forget.

But he, and others, were quick to acknowledge the overwhelming support provided by the government and many citizens in their hour of need. "We know that this xenophobic violence was perpetrated by a few people and that the vast majority of South Africans are against it. Unfortunately we cannot rely on the government forever. Life must go on, and for me that life is in the DRC."

The UNHCR, while ready to help people like Comoda repatriate, will continue to assist the refugees and asylum seekers who would like to reintegrate into local communities through an assistance programme implemented by its partner, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

By Pumla Rulashe in Krugersdorp, South Africa




UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek Safety

He used to fix broken bicycles in Burundi, but as political troubles and killings mounted Nestor Kamza decided to flee. In search of safety he and his family walked non-stop for 24-hours until they reached Tanzania. His family is among more than 100,000 people who have fled from political violence in Burundi and arrived in the Nyarugusu camp which has almost tripled in size. To alleviate overcrowding in the camp, UNHCR and its partners have planned to open three new camps and have started moving tens of thousands of Burundian refugees to a new, less congested, home
Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.
Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate
Play video

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

The 2013 winner of UNHCR`s Nansen Refugee Award is Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of Democratic Republic of the Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She has helped over 2000 displaced women and girls who have suffered the most awful kidnapping and abuse, to pick up the pieces of their lives and become re-accepted by their communities.